After much squabbling over distribution of seats, the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have moved closer to seal an alliance for the next year's assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Both sides have maintained that announcing the deal is "just a matter of time" now as all formalities have been completed.
The Congress has agreed to give a "cabinet portfolio of significance" to RLD chief Ajit Singh but so far appeared reluctant to accommodate his son and Lok Sabha MP Jayant Chaudhary as a union minister of state. On its part, the RLD chief scaled down his demand for seats from 100 to around 50-60. "The file has started moving," a senior Congress leader said on the proposed pact.
The two sides have been in talks for the past three months and on many occasions the negotiations almost reached the break-up point. But sustained one-to-one interactions between Ajit Singh and Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh had kept the hopes alive.
Both the sides are desperate to stitch-up an alliance that will give a formidable alternative to the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. Managers of both the parties are also aware that going alone would "only hurt their electoral prospects".
Congress leaders have maintained that a pre-poll deal with RLD would ensure their party more than 100 seats, a significant jump from the present strength of 22 in the 403-member assembly. But wary of Ajit Singh's "unpredictability", a section within the Congress appears hesitant to forecast an outcome.
"Nothing can be said until the deal is sealed. We are keeping our fingers crossed," a senior Congress functionary asserted.
Out of power since 1989, the Congress is desperately seeking to regain its lost ground in UP. The party did make a partial comeback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when it won 21 seats.