Numbers game: why the SP-Congress alliance in UP is coming undone
With just two working days left for filing of nominations for the first phase of the UP election, the fate of the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance hangs in balance. And this only two days after their leaders had claimed that it was a done deal.
On Saturday, SP leaders said the possibility of an alliance looks bleak but the Congress leadership appears hopeful. "We will know by tomorrow morning," Ghulam Nabi Azad, the party's in charge of Uttar Pradesh, told reporters after a meeting of the leadership at 10 Janpath, the residence of party chief Sonia Gandhi.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav, who announced his party's candidates Friday, stunning the Congress, is scheduled to hold a press conference at 11 am on Sunday to announce the manifesto.
"The alliance may not be possible now for the Congress remains adamant on 120 seats," SP leader Naresh Agrawal said. However, Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal told Catch that the the talks are still on.
Akhilesh, a source close to the chief minister claimed, offered 99 seats to the Congress, which initially wanted 120-130 seats but may have climbed down to 110 now. Another source said the deal is stuck on the number of seats and that the Congress is being "over ambitious".
The Congress leadership was also angry that Akhilesh had named candidates for seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi, the two Gandhi family strongholds, even those currently represented by the party. Akhilesh, however, is now prepared to let the Congress contest three seats - out of the six - in these two districts that it currently holds.
Of the others, the SP may want to retain Amethi, which is represented by Gayatri Prajapathi, a SP leader considered close to Mulayam Singh Yadav. "We don't want to annoy Netaji further. So Amethi may not go to Congress," the source said. Prajapathi, though close to Mulayam, had played both sides in the family feud, even signing an affidavit in support of Akhilesh.
The Congress leadership had, on Friday, asked the party's state chief Raj Babbar to camp in Lucknow for negotiations with the SP, and sent Dhiraj Srivastava, a former bureaucrat close to the Congress top brass, as an interlocutor to facilitate talks with the Akhilesh camp.
SP leaders, meanwhile, continued to question the rationale of the Congress demanding more seats than it is being offered. Pointing to SP Vice President Kiranmoy Nanda's statement that the grand old party did not deserve to fight more than 54 seats, yet the SP was willing to give it 84 seats, an Sp leader said, "It was a good deal, they would have got 50% more than they deserve."
Prof AK Verma, an authourity on the politics of UP, said the Congress is in a precarious position. The party will likely do badly if it contests alone; it may not even touch double digits. On the other hand, going into the election in an alliance and contesting just about 100 seats would adversely affect the party's organisation, or whatever is left of it on the ground, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
In 2012, the Congress contested 355 seats, leaving the rest to its ally RLD. It ended up losing deposits on 240.
Electoral arithmetic apart, Prof Verma questioned the very premise of the proposed alliance, that it would help transfer a section of upper caste and Dalit votes of the Congress to the SP and the Yadav votes to the Congress, consolidating the minority votes in the process. He pointed out that the state was witnessing a shift from "identity politics" to "aspirational politics" now. Besides, no party other than Mayawati's BSP can be sure of transferring its votes to any ally.
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