Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav made a grand show of their new-found chemistry on Sunday and said they are friends, not just political allies, whose goal is to defeat “fascist forces” in Uttar Pradesh.
The leaders shared warm handshakes, tight hugs, and even turned up in matching black jackets for a joint press conference, a road show and a rally in Lucknow to showcase the two parties’ alliance for the UP assembly elections, starting February 11.
“Our goal is to defeat fascist forces, defeat the RSS and BJP ideology,” the Congress vice president said.
But the bonhomie suffered a blow after SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav rejected the alliance later at night and said he won’t campaign for it.
“I am completely against it … I will request the party cadre to speak against the alliance,” he said.
Mulayam had opposed the move for a tie-up with the Congress but son Akhilesh went ahead with it after deposing him from the party president’s post, which capped a bitter family feud in the ruling party.
“We always fought the Congress … Samajwadi Party is capable of contesting elections alone,” he said.
The two young leaders are, however, confident of the alliance winning 300-plus seats in the state’s 404-member assembly. The SP is contesting 298 seats while the Congress will field candidates in 105 constituencies. A joint campaign has been launched at the grassroots level as well.
Rivals BJP and four-time chief minister Mayawati’s BSP have called the tie-up a compulsion, which political experts agree as the Congress has been out of power since 1989 in this politically crucial state while the SP is struggling because of the father-son power struggle.
“The Congress and Samajwadi Party have their own ideology. Both parties have similarities and differences. We will contest elections on our similarities. Both will have to make compromises as well,” Gandhi said.
Asked if this partnership would extend to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he explained that it was not yet decided but such an idea is open to discussion.
“This is a sangam (confluence) of Ganga and Yamuna … progress, prosperity and peace will flow out of this to take the state ahead on the path of development,” he said.
For his part, chief minister Yadav remarked that the bicycle and hand — SP and Congress’s poll symbols — will expedite the speed of development.
“This is the first election when the people have already made up their mind and are waiting to vote for the alliance,” he said at the two leaders’ maiden joint press conference.
Thereafter, Gandhi and Yadav began the alliance’s poll campaign with a symbolic road show. The 16km march started at upscale Hazratganj and ended at Ghanta Ghar or clock tower in the city’s old Muslim-majority quarters, keeping in line with the alliance’s strategy to stop traditional voters of the two parties from shifting towards the BJP and BSP.
They were aboard a campaign bus, named “UP Vijay Rath”. A mixed crowd of Congress and SP supporters shouted slogans and waved party flags along the way.
The bus was decked out with posters of the two young leaders along with those of SP patriarch Mulayam and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Later at a rally after the road show, the Congress vice president appealed to the people to make Yadav the chief minister again.
“Akhilesh Yadav is not Narendra Modi. He never speaks out his mind like Modi does in his Mann ki Baat. But he listens to your Mann ki baat,” Gandhi said, taking a dig at the Prime Minister over his monthly radio address.
He called Modi’s demonetisation exercise a mockery of the poor. “Modi promised acche din but made people line up in front of banks all across the country.”
(With inputs from agencies)