Former Union Minister P Chidambaram today answered the criticism that the Congress move to contest all the seats in Uttar Pradesh would eat into the votes of the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav combine and end up hurting the alliance more than the BJP. The Congress is facing similar allegations in Kerala after party chief Rahul Gandhi decided to contest from Wayanad as his second seat after Amethi. The state's ruling Left Front has questioned whether the Congress is battling the BJP or the CPM.
It was not the Congress's choice to stay out of the alliance, it was the two leaders who decided to keep the party out, he said.
"I can turn around and say they are eating into our votes," the former Union minister said. "Once they turned us down, what was the Congress party supposed to do? Pack up and leave UP? Can we do that? We can't."
The Congress, he said, might win or lose, "but the votes we garner can't be described as eating into your tally," he said.
After Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav had announced their partnership last month, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had announced that his party would not play on the backfoot. "I have tremendous respect for the leaders of the BSP and Samajwadi Party, and recognise that they have the right to do what they want. It's on us to strengthen the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, and we will fight to our full capacity," Mr Gandhi had said.
But as the party announced plans to contest all 80 seats in the state - considered the key to ruling at the centre -- there were concerns that it might cut into the non-BJP votebank and play into the hands of the BJP.
Leaders of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and Mr Yadav's Samajwadi Party - which have its core support base mainly among the Muslims and the backward castes -- have dismissed the possibility. The Congress, they have argued, is more likely to cut into the upper caste voter base the BJP has in the state, they said.
The BJP and its ally Apna Dal had won 73 of the state's 80 seats in the 2014 national elections. The Samajwadi Party had won five seats. The Congress, which has not been in power in the state since the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, retained only Amethi and Raebareli -- the seats of Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi.
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