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UP polls: Congress plays ball with hard-nosed Samajwadi Party

india Updated: Dec 12, 2016 01:41 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Samajwadi Party

File photo of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.(PTI)

The Congress is ready to almost halve its initial demand of seats in a possible alliance with the Samajwadi Party that might prove a gamechanger in next year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, sources told HT.

The two parties are locked in back-channel talks to tap what they feel is massive public anger — especially among the poor — triggered by the Centre’s shock recall of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes a month ago.

The Congress may settle for 70 of the state’s 403 seats, down from its initial demand of 120-130, sources added.

But before any final touches, the national party is waiting for the “dust to settle in the first family” in UP — a reference to a bruising public fight between chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle Shivpal Yadav for control of the SP.

As of now, Congress sources said the SP has multiple power centres and it was unclear who would take a final call.

“Politics is the art of the possible. But there is nothing on an alliance yet,” Congress chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit said, referring to Akhilesh’s statement at HT’s Leadership Summit on December 2 that a SP-Congress combine could win more than 300 seats. The SP side remained non-committal.

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Many in the two parties are keen on an alliance following internal assessment that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap high-value banknotes had pushed the BJP to the number three position in the state.

This is apparently the result of demonetisation that has allegedly caused massive rural distress and the loss of thousands of jobs. The main fight in the state polls – scheduled for February-March -- is between the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), they feel.

At one point, the Congress wanted an alliance with the BSP but Mayawati showed no interest.

That is past. Senior Congress functionaries are of the view that a pact with the SP could consolidate the Muslim-Yadav vote bank and keep the BSP and BJP at bay. A section of upper castes – wooed by the Congress with its Brahmin CM pick -- might also be swayed by the alliance.

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While the Muslims constitute about 18-19% of the total voter population in UP, the Yadavs account for 14-15%. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) form 51% of the total population.

Both Akhilesh and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi share a good rapport and are amenable to a pre-poll tie-up. Akhilesh has maintained that the onus of firming up the alliance was on the Congress.

Congress’ poll strategist Prashant Kishor is also trying hard to bring the two parties together, and has already met SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ahikesh to finalise the deal.