Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav offered a deal to the Congress on Friday, saying the Samajwadi Party was game for a tie-up if his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was made the prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 general election with Rahul Gandhi as his deputy.
The Congress vice-president, in the audience on the opening day of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit where Yadav made the offer, smiled but refused comment when asked if he has anything to say about the offer.
“I have articulated my desire and am willing to seal the alliance today itself, if the Congress agrees,” Yadav said, dwelling on possibilities of anti-BJP parties cobbling up a Bihar-style grand alliance in 2019. He said all non-NDA parties were welcome to join such a combine.
“I also wish that Netaji’s dream is fulfilled … he also becomes the prime minister,” said the 42-year-old chief minister in a tongue-in-cheek riposte to reports about his father’s ultimate political ambition.
When asked in an interview with HT after the session why the Congress would agree to make Mulayam the PM when the Congress is a national party and the SP only a regional force, Yadav said, “We are in power in the state. For the sake of the country’s secular fabric, we are ready for a gathbandhan (grand alliance).
“I was asked a question and I answered it. In the past, the Congress has supported smaller parties. Let there be a debate on Netaji heading the gathbandhan.”
On the possibility of a Bihar-style wider alliance with his political foe Mayawati, who he referred to as ‘bua’ or aunt, the chief minister said, “The elections are still some time away... no party will go in for a gathbandhan. We are not thinking in terms of a gathbandhan.”
Yadav, a youthful leader among India’s grandfatherly politicians who swept to power in a landslide victory in 2012, scoffed at criticism that his father was the “super CM” and he often upbraided his son in public. “Does anyone feel hurt when a father scolds you … we are samajwaadis, socialists, and are transparent.”
He fielded a range of questions, including allegations of a BJP-SP secret deal prior to the 2017 elections, communal polarisation in the state and his “lack of grip” over the state administration.
Deflecting questions on the possibility of the SP’s support to the NDA government on the goods and services tax bill, he described the reported closeness between his father and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “media speculation”. He asserted that there was no possibility of any alliance between the two parties.
The BJP is looking to come back to power in Uttar Pradesh after sweeping the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that saw regional rivals BSP and SP routed. But both parties performed strongly in the recently-concluded local body elections in the state as the saffron party suffered serious setbacks even in Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi.
Yadav highlighted his government’s achievements but also admitted the party’s image had taken a beating because it did not focus on branding and marketing. He also blamed the media for projecting a negative image of his government.
He cited the construction of the UP Expressway and rapid progress of the Lucknow Metro project to make his point. “Infrastructure development, farmer’s welfare and social security issues will remain the SP government’s priorities,” he said.