The Congress suffered a setback on Friday when Beni Prasad Verma, the party’s senior leader in Uttar Pradesh and a former minister in the UPA government, joined the Samajwadi Party (SP), which he had quit in 2007.
Besides, Lok Dal leader Kiran Pal Singh joined Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party, ostensibly to woo the Jats in western UP.
Murmurs of Verma rejoining the SP was doing the rounds for some time but his entry seems to have been hastened by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s foray into UP to form a grand alliance for the 2017 state polls, minus the ruling Yadavs in the state.
Kumar commands considerable clout among the Kurmis, a caste to which he belongs.
Verma, who is from Barabanki district, a stronghold of the community, is also said to have a sizeable following in the region.
Verma quit SP in 2007 over what he called irrevocable differences and joined the Congress just before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. He had criticised the SP chief openly on several occasions in the past.
When he rejoined the party--with Mulayam and son, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, by his side--Verma said he was starting a new chapter.
“I am not denying I did not make those comments. But one must change according to the times and circumstances as nothing is permanent in politics,” he said, trying to explain how a staunch critic had a change of heart.
He is tipped to get a Rajya Sabha berth from the SP quota.
“I am grateful to both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi for treating me with respect but for the past couple of years I was feeling suffocated and was finding it difficult to adjust myself with the developments in UP Congress,” he said.
Verma, a founder-member of SP, is a five-time Lok Sabha MP. He was the steel minister during the UPA-2 government from 2009 to 2014 under Manmohan Singh.
“I am happy they are back. And their presence will give the party strength and enable to further consolidate its position in the state,” Mulayam said.
Akhilesh described the “comeback” in a lighter vein. “As they say, old friends have the same importance and influence that old books and old wine have in our lives.”
The SP chief blamed JD(U)’s Kumar for ditching him, responding to a query if there will be any tie-up and a grand alliance. “I never quit. Lalu had proposed my name for the chairman of the alliance and Nitish seconded the decision. But later he went back on it,” he said.
Senior SP leader and colleague Azam Khan reprised Mulayam’s views.
“Political compulsions, permutations and combinations differ in various states. We enjoy the centrestage and are in command here. So why would we look for an alliance,” he said.
Mulayam, who is known to be his son’s staunchest critic, is happy with the chief minister’s performance. “The SP government has fulfilled all the promises it made in just two-and-a-half years. I am confident the people would vote the party back to power for a second term,” he said.