Realpolitik forces SP-Congress alliance in UP

Realpolitik forces SP-Congress alliance in UP

Samajwadi Party and Congress today sealed a pre-poll pact to contest the UP assembly elections, ending days of suspense and feverish parleys, with compulsions of realpolitik forcing the two parties to come together to thwart BJP's attempt to storm back to power after 15 years.

The alliance, which at one stage looked doomed with both sides driving a hard bargain, was announced by the chiefs of the state units of the two parties who declared while SP will have the lion's share of 298 of 403 seats, Congress willl contest the remaining 105.

At one stage senior SP leader Naresh Agarwal had said the possibility of an alliance was "almost over" and blamed the "stubborn" attitude of Congress for the deadlock.

"SP and Congress have forged an alliance and will contest UP assembly polls together," SP state president Naresh Uttam told the hurriedly convened press conference.

UP PCC chief Raj Babbar hoped the SP-Congress alliance will reap a bumper electoral harvest in the state and fulfil aspriations of all sections of the society.

He said a Common Minimum Programme will be drafted within a week of the alliance coming to power. "For unity and integrity of India and following secular ideology, we will continue our fight under SP national president Akhilesh Yadav," state Samajwadi Party chief Naresh Uttam told a press conference addressed jointly with UP PCC president Raj Babbar.

"The country's secular fabric will become stronger when Akhilesh Yadav becomes the chief minister again," Uttam said.

He said the idea was to "uproot communal BJP" and make UP a leading state by removing both BJP and Mayawati's BSP.

Babbar said Congress has accepted SP's offer of 105 seats keeping in mind the prevailing situation in the country and also the atmosophere in the state.

"Keeping these factors in mind, Congress leadership agreed to strike an alliance to thwart BJP's divisive politics and at the same time boost secularism and promote communal and social harmony.

"Our ideologies are not different. We share many common ideologies," he said, adding both the parties believed in social justice and development, peace and good atmosphere.

The alliance was said to have materialised after Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened.

One of the reasons for the delay in announcement of the tie-up was reportedly Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's unhappiness over Congress leadership sending light-weight emissaries like election strategist Prashant Kishor for talks.

However, senior Congress leaders later got involved and salvaged the deal. Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel tweeted: "Wrong to suggest lightweights were dealing on behalf of Congress party. Discussion was at highest level- b/w CM (UP), GS I/C (Ghulam Nabi Azad) & Priyanka Gandhi."

Azad, Congress general secretary incharge of UP, too said Priyanka, who had hitherto limited herself to Amethi and Rae Bareli parliamentary seats represented by her brother Rahul and mother Sonia respectively, played a major role in identifying the seats to be contested by the party and in alliance talks.

Azad told a TV channel the alliance was forged to prevent a split in secular votes which would have benefited BJP.

He rejected reports in a section of the media that talks had hit a hurdle over Congress's demand for all assembly segments falling in Amethi and Rae Bareli Parliamentary constituencies.

"There was no such talk. We wanted seats in every region, be it eastern UP, western or central UP, Bundelkhand...We had earlier decided to go it alone but dropped the idea after secular forces felt we should come together to thwart attempts by BJP to come to power.

"In the mean time, as Samajwadi Party lost heft due to infighting, we demanded 150 seats. We wanted a respectable seat-sharing arrangement. This decision has been made for the country's unity, for keeping secularism alive," he said.

Hours after the pact was announced, Samajwadi Party released a list of 77 nominees, leaving three assembly seats for Congress falling in Sonia's Rae Bareli Parliamentary constituency.

According to SP sources, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had initially offered 100 seats to Congress but they demanded 120. Samajwadi Party then argued that it had 234 sitting legislators and there were some others who would also contest. Thus, the ruling party needed at least 300 of the 403 seats.

But, Congress leaders had informed the SP that in such a scenario, there cannot be an alliance.

Congress' Central Election Committee met in Delhi and went ahead with finalising candidates for 140 seats which will go to polls in the first two phases.

The party, however, did not declare its candidates for these seats, leaving a window for a possible alliance for which talks were held till wee hours today.

Congress was also keen to include Ajit Singh-led RLD in the alliance, which the Samajwadi Party did not want.

SP had maintained it will have no truck with RLD and, if Congress wanted, it could give its share of seats to Ajit Singh's party.

Leaders like RJD president Lalu Prasad, who has family ties with Akhilesh Yadav, also played a 'behind the scene' role in coming together of the two parties.

"I have been consistently in talks with Samajwadi Party and Congress' top leadership for stitching an alliance between the two parties in Uttar Pradesh," he said in a tweet.

Once Akhilesh finally wrested the SP chief's post from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and got its 'bicycle' symbol, Prasad backed him and promised to campaign for the faction led by the chief minister.

In the 2012 Assembly polls, SP had won 224 seats with a vote share of 29.3 per cent, while Congress bagged 28 seats with an 11.7 per cent vote share. Coming together of the two parties would pave the way for a three-cornered fight, with Mayawati's BSP and BJP being the other major contenders for power.

Given the SP and Congress's performance in the last assembly polls, the new alliance could pose a tough challenge to its rivals.

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