As talks have begun to form a grand alliance in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, all eyes are on chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi amid reports of a not-so-comfortable relation between their seniors: Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The other mediator, Amar Singh who recently returned to the SP, is cooling his heels at home after he was held responsible for an intense feud going in the party’s first family.
Mulayam had last year walked out of Bihar’s grand alliance on learning about JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s meeting with the Congress top brass. Much water has flown down the Ganga since then. The grand alliance proved its political prowess by winning the Bihar assembly polls after a rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The scenario is similar in Uttar Pradesh, where all opposition parties were decimated by BJP leader Narendra Modi’s juggernaut — and they are still struggling to recoup.
Besides, the Yadav family feud has weakened the Samajwadi Party and the common perception is it might lose its precious minority votes to Mayawati’s BSP.
Mulayam, who had grown in Lohia’s anti-Congress boots, however, has not been averse to taking support from the grand old party—as he did in 1989. He had also offered support to the UPA, which, however, was declined by Gandhi.
The 76-year-old SP patriarch also believes that any political dispensation at the Centre in 2019 would not be possible without the Congress.
Now, as a generational shift is taking place in both the parties, Rahul and Akhilesh are taking charge. It is common knowledge that both like each other at the personal level, though they have been at loggerheads, politically.
Incidentally, both had so far pursued the ‘ekla chalo’ philosophy. For, according to them, the party organisation usually weakens in surrendered seats. But a resurgent BJP and their parties’ own health is apparently driving them to change their stance and agree to ally.
The Congress legislators, who were summoned to Delhi by Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, advocated an alliance with secular forces. According to senior Congress leaders, Rahul was not only receptive but had also responded favourably.
The choice of the secular force is limited — the BSP or the SP. So far, the BSP has repeatedly clarified that there will be no pre-poll alliance though Mayawati never ruled out post-poll arrangements.
Thus, the Congress is left with only one option and that is the SP.
A veteran Muslim leader had once told HT in Bahraich, “Mark my words: Rahul will lead the Centre, Akhilesh the state.”
Senior Congress leaders are quite hopeful of positive talks between Rahul and Akhilesh.
“We want a respectable arrangement,” said a Congress leader who firmly believes their return to power would be via power.
On the sidelines, SP state president Shivpal Singh Yadav has already initiated a dialogue to bring together the followers of Mahatma Gandhi, Lohia and Charan Singh.
He met KC Tyagi of the Janata Dal-United and Choudhary Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal primarily to invite them to the SP’s silver jubilee celebrations on November 5. This will be the platform on which the non-BJP parties will showcase their strength.
Ajit Singh is projecting his son Jayant Choudhary as his party’s leader. The Congress has declared Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial face, while SP chief Mulayam has left it to the legislators to elect their leader. But Akhilesh remains the SP’s choice.
The Congress leaders, however, have said a majority of the Opposition parties will agree on Akhilesh’s name. The problem, though, lies in sharing seats. Second, Nitish Kumar is still not open to an alliance with Mulayam, but his partner Lalu Prasad may prevail upon him.
As talks commence, leaders of all hues and shades keep their fingers crossed. As for Akhilesh, he is going ahead with his rath yatra. Even the Congress believes he has emerged stronger from the feud in the SP.