The rules of engagement between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are still hazy despite the pompous claims originating from the latter. What is, however, almost certain at the moment is that both parties will have a nation-wide electoral understanding. Before the 2004 Lok Sabha (LS) elections, the Congress took a realistic approach towards forming alliances and gathered regional parties around it. The party’s ‘Shimla Sankalp’ in 2003 had called for a joint front of all secular forces against the BJP-led NDA. DMK chief Karunanidhi was the first regional satrap to respond positively, followed by a willing Left, leading to the formation of the UPA after their victory in the 2004 elections. Since then, the Left has parted ways with the UPA and has been replaced by the SP, which offered support to sustain the government.
Alliances made by the Congress in recent years can be broadly categorised as three. In the first, the Congress and the Left remained antagonistic to each other in the state politics in Kerala and Bengal, while artfully being allies in Delhi. It worked well as long as it worked. In the second, the Congress and the regional parties helped each other, to mutual benefit, at both regional and national levels. Examples are the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra and Congress-TRS pact in Andhra Pradesh. In the third category, Congress conceded an entire state to a party in return for support in Delhi — the party’s alliance with the RJD in Bihar, where it contested four of 40 seats in 2004, is the starkest example. The pattern was not new and, ever since it was defeated in the 1967 elections in Tamil Nadu, the Congress has sought to remain relevant by attaching itself to one or the other Dravidian parties. The 2004 alliance with the RJD was a virtual declaration of the Congress’s lack of hope for revival. Sonia Gandhi did not even campaign in Bihar, outsourcing secular politics in the state. One thought the party had better plans for UP. During the 2007 Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi had singled out the Congress-BSP alliance of 1996 as the primary cause of the party’s downfall in the state. The Congress, under PV Narasimha Rao, had contested 125 of 425 Assembly seats, leaving the rest to the BSP. “That was a sellout,” said Rahul Gandhi during the campaign. Today, in order to stop the same BSP in its tracks, the Congress is contemplating an alliance with the SP.
In the best-case scenario of the Congress contesting 25 of 80 LS seats in alliance with the SP in UP, in 80 per cent of the state, party workers will stay idle or look for alternatives. Bihar and UP have 120 LS seats between them and the Congress could become extinct in more than three-fourths of them — that is one-fifth of the total strength of the House. And after all this, the formation of the next government will depend entirely on post-poll realism rather than pre-poll loyalties. Is it already time the Congress gave up all hope in UP?