Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav called Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday “a good boy” with whom he could strike a friendship with, leaving people wondering about a possible political partnership ahead of the 2017 state elections.
But the Samajwadi Party leader parried questions if his remarks meant a possible alliance with the Congress.
“I will not go into the details but you can ponder on friendship of two good people,” he said, after commenting that there’s nothing wrong in two good people becoming friends.
“I wish Rahul stays more in UP. He is a good boy and we can be friends.”
The 43-year-old Yadav, a Sydney educated environmental engineer now ruling India’s most populous and politically crucial state, dropped enough hints of a friendship when reporters asked him about Gandhi’s “khat panchayats”, or cot conclaves, in the poll-bound state.
“I saw a photograph in which a farmer was sitting on a cot holding a smartphone in his hand. He was looking at the picture of bicycle on the screen of his laptop. There can be a relationship between khat (cot) and bicycle (the SP poll symbol),” he said.
The 46-year-old Gandhi, who represents UP’s Amethi in the Lok Sabha, is spearheading the Congress’s campaign with a flurry of public rallies — promoted as kisan yatra, or march for farmers, and khat panchayats.
His speeches targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government at the Centre but were silent on the SP government, prompting state BJP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya to counterattack the Congress.
“Why is Rahul silent on the misdeeds of the Samajwadi Party? Why is he blaming the central government for the misery of farmers and backwardness in UP?” Maurya asked.
The BJP, looking to gain power in the state after winning 71 of the 80 state’s parliamentary seats in 2014, has been on a hyperdrive to dislodge the SP, accusing the ruling party of encouraging lawlessness.
Chief minister Yadav defended his government, citing sarcastically the post-rally loot of around 1,000 brand new charpoys kept as props at Gandhi’s “khat sabha” event in eastern UP’s Deoria on Tuesday.
“Had the programme been organised by the SP, the media would have blamed the SP cadre for the mayhem. The channels would have been running news flash that goons of the ruling SP looted the cots,” he said and blamed the media of being soft towards the Congress.
The Congress and SP are known to share a political kinship at the Centre, with party patriarch and the chief minister’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, backing the previous UPA during tricky situations.
But at the state level, they remained rivals and continued to be so when the SP refused to join an alliance of Congress, RJD and JD(U) during this year’s Bihar elections.
A senior SP leader said it was too early to comment on an alliance with the Congress, though the state has been recording a string of political realignments with elections just about six months away.
“Talks are going on with smaller political parties, including Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Quami Ekta Dal (QED), for an electoral alliance,” he said.
RJD chief Lalu Yadav, whose daughter Raj Laxmi is married to Mulayam Singh’s grandnephew, Tej Pratap Singh, has announced he would not field candidates in the UP polls. He may not have told his supporters in UP who to vote, but the SP or Congress could hope cross-voting of RJD followers will help them.
But JD(U) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has no love lost with the SP. At a rally in Phulpur, he accused Mulayam Singh’s party of walking out of the grand alliance in Bihar.