After two tense days, the Congress and the ruling Samajwadi Party on Sunday sealed a poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh, a move expected to consolidate the Muslim vote that would have a bearing on at least 100 of the 403 assembly seats.
The Samajwadi Party will contest 298 seats and the Congress the remaining 105. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who emerged as the undisputed leader of the SP after months of a bruising family battle, would lead the alliance into the polls.
“A pre-election tie-up is a historical decision and will herald a new beginning for the development of Uttar Pradesh. The Congress and the SP will contest all the 403 together to defeat the communal forces,” UP Congress chief Raj Babbar and SP state chief Naresh Uttam said at a press conference in Lucknow.
Voting for the 403-member assembly will be held over seven phases, beginning February 11.
The SP counts Yadavs and Muslims as its vote base. SP patriarch and three-time chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav won several poll battles on what came to be known as the M-Y formula.
Muslims account for 19% of Uttar Pradesh’s population and their voting behaviour will define the outcome in around 100 constituencies.
Talks between the two sides hit a rough patch on Friday when the SP announced a list of candidates of 208 seats, including those held by the Congress.
The Congress wanted at least 120 seats. The SP offered 115 to be shared with other parties, which left the Congress with only 80 seats, sources said.
The SP list will now be revised.
A final decision on Gandhi family boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi, which have five assembly seats each, was yet to be taken.
The SP in the evening announced candidates for two seats in Rae Bareli and three in Amethi in a list of 79 names. “The SP has seven sitting MLAs while the Congress has two. We understand the Congress will get at least five seats,” sources said.
Last two days saw hectic parleys, with the deal being reached in the early hours of Sunday.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel confirmed the role played by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in stitching the alliance. “Wrong to suggest lightweights were dealing on behalf of Congress party. Discussion was at highest level- b/w CM (UP),GS I/C & Priyanka Gandhi,” he tweeted.
Wrong to suggest lightweights were dealing on behalf of Congress party.Discussion was at highest level- b/w CM (UP),GS I/C & Priyanka Gandhi— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) January 22, 2017
Patel was referring to media reports that Akhilesh was miffed over the Congress deputing “lightweights” to discuss the poll arrangement.
“The foundation of alliance is based on constructive work by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Under active leadership of chief minister and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, the alliance will rise above politics of religion and caste to provide social dignity and security to the people,” Babbar said.
The Congress released a list of 41 candidates for the first two phases of elections. Former union minister Jitin Prasada, one of the candidates, could be the Congress’s pick for the deputy CM’s post given that party’s chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit had withdrawn from the contest, sources said.
Sunday’s agreement also signals end of the plan for a grand alliance that would have included smaller parties such as Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress was keen on Ajit Singh-led RLD but the Samajwadi Party had its reservations.