New Delhi: Proof that a day or two is an eternity in politics: till 48 hours ago, top Congress leaders and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav both proclaimed that a partnership for Uttar Pradesh was confirmed and minor fixes remained. A case of Really, Not Really, as it turns out. Today, Samajwadi Party lawmaker Naresh Agarwal said in Delhi, "The talks are nearly over." However, in a dead giveaway of which is the needy party, Raj Babbar of the Congress said, "The talks are still going on." Later on Saturday evening, sources said, Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself intervened in an attempt to save the alliance.
- Akhilesh Yadav says Congress can have 99 seats
- Congress says not OK, wants at least five more
- Alliance virtually off, says Akhilesh Yadav's party
The breaking point for both sides rests on barely 10 seats. Akhilesh Yadav has said his best offer to the Congress is 99 of Uttar Pradesh's 403 seats. The Congress however, is insistent on 110 on record, though privately, it says 104 would suffice. Yesterday, the Samajwadi Party stumped the Congress by announcing 208 candidates, making it clear that the Congress would get far less than what it was expecting. Two other problems: the Samajwadi Party declared contenders for nine seats currently held by the Congress, and had indicated that of the 10 constituencies in Raebareli and Amethi, it will not surrender the seven that it holds. For the Congress, this is a major prestige point since these are the parliamentary constituencies of its top bosses Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Sources in the Congress say that its chief strategist Prashant Kishor spent from 8 am to 4 pm with Akhilesh Yadav today but was unable to make him bend.
Sources in the Congress say that when Akhilesh Yadav was in combat with father Mulayam Singh and the Samajwadi Party appeared precariously close to splitting, the Chief Minister offered the Congress 140 seats. But now, having side-swiped his father to take full charge of his party, Akhilesh Yadav is negotiating from a position of strength and has reduced the Congress' quota.
Sources in the Samajwadi Party also say that in the last state election in 2012, there were only about 50 seats where the Congress candidate performed better than the Samajwadi Party's. Therefore, they say, the offer of 99 seats is more than generous and provides for the Congress to pass on some seats to smaller regional parties, should it so desire.
On Monday, all talk of a Bihar-style Grand Alliance or mahagatbandhan in Uttar Pradesh was muted with Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) deciding not to be part of the proposed non-BJP front. The Congress was pushing for the RLD to be part of the arrangement. However, the Samajwadi Party said that given that the RLD is the party of choice for the Jat community, an association with it could backfire because Muslim voters, who clashed with the Jats in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, may not approve.
Sources in the Samajwadi Party also point out that in 2012, when the BJP was No. 3 in the state, the Congress won only 28 seats. Now they point out that as established by the BJP's sweep in the general election, the Congress is utterly depleted and must accept its downsizing.