Unless leaders from both parties come out in full support of the alliance, they may not be able to convert popular support into votes.
Congress may be on cloud nine after finally clinching an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, but the road ahead may not be all that rosy.
Observers of the political scene in the state concede that the alliance has the mahaul (atmosphere) on its side, but there are doubt about if the SP and Congress will be able to convert this into sufficient votes.
The understanding is that at the moment the alliance is ‘kachha’ (raw) or half baked, and much care, trust and toil will need to be put in for it to succeed in the election, which has the potential to transform national politics.
Akhilesh has the upper hand in the alliance by keeping the Congress on tenterhooks for two days after unilaterally announcing most of his candidates and declaring his manifesto.
“The alliance should have been announced by Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi jointly to send a message nationally that the two young leaders have come together,” say leaders from the two parties.
By leaving the job to state leaders, Akhilesh and Rahul have failed to build on the buzz of their coming together to stop the Modi wave and have given the impression that this alliance is just another tie-up.
As far as the Congress is concerned, the problem is that it has not got the ‘good seats’, an issue further aggravated by the party’s failure to consult local leaders.
When a state leader complained to Priyanka Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress general secretary and the party-in-charge on the nitty-gritties of the alliance, called him for his view on the seats in his area just an hour before it was finalised: “Congress did get a number of seats but not the quality seats,” the state leader said.
“Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki (the road ahead is tough),” said a Congressman who had been a party nominee from central Uttar Pradesh, known to be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s stronghold. His assertion was that it is still not clear whether Mulayam is fully behind the alliance charted by his son, who he insisted was ‘obedient’ till last month.
Although Mulayam has been calm and quiet so far, the dramatic developments over the last few weeks have left him feeling uneasy. Only this could explain his absence at the manifesto-release ceremony.
Alleged comments by SP leaders like Mohd Azam Khan that the Congress was “doing penance for its sins” by going into an alliance with the SP show that despite the alliance there has not been a meeting of minds. The underlying message of such statements is that the Congress has had to go in for the ‘forced marriage’ to remain politically relevant.
On the other hand, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati is seeking to consolidate her support base, even though the mahaul is not on her side. A matter of concern for the SP-Congress alliance is the 97 tickets given to Muslims by the BSP. Fighting with her back to the wall, Mayawati has placed candidates in such a way that this time she can make a major dent even in western UP, which was the stronghold of Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh.
The actions initiated against Anand, Mayawati’s brother, by the Modi government at the Centre on the issue of disproportionate assets is helping the BSP supremo consolidate her Dalit votebank. It should not be forgotten that Mayawati’s clean sweep in the 2007 assembly polls is considered a defining moment in Indian politics.
The BJP is going all out to ensure that UP does not become a repeat of the Bihar polls in 2015. Modi has declared himself to be a “UP wallah” after the BJP’s spectacular showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls where the party won 71 seats.
In such a backdrop, Rahul and Priyanka need to be on the offensive in UP and Akhilesh has to come out campaigning for a united fight.
UP is also known as “ultapulta pradesh” for the way it has seen political adventures over the years.
“Satais saal, UP behaal” may have been the Congress tagline in the elections till the alliance was formalised, but if Modi succeeds in the state, the Congress is what will be ‘behaal’.
It is a high-stakes battle for both Akhilesh and Rahul, but perhaps more so for the latter, whose party has not seen a single victory in any state since May 2014, when it won in Arunachal Pradesh.
The SP-Congress alliance may have arrived at last, but it is too early for either party to celebrate.
Sunil Gatade is a senior journalist.