Assembly elections

Will they, won't they? 15 seats could be standing in the way of a Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance

The insistence by Congress for seats that the ruling dispensation had won in the 2012 Assembly elections has become a sticking point.

If there is one thing that has stalled the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance in Uttar Pradesh, strong indications of which had been going on for months, it is this: the grand old party’s insistence on contesting from 15-odd seats that the ruling dispensation had won in the 2012 Assembly elections in the state.

The seats are part of 31 Assembly constituencies in which the Congress had come second in that election. While 15 had gone to the Samajwadi Party, the others are with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Sources in the Samajwadi Party, however, said it would not be possible for the party to give up its claim on all its 15 seats that the Congress is adamant on.

As a concession, the party has indicated that it is ready to give up its claim over some other Assembly seats that it holds, especially those that fall in the Congress strongholds of Rae Bareli, President Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, and Amethi, of which Vice President Rahul Gandhi is the MP.

Deadlock over seats

In 2012, the Congress had won in two of the five Assembly segments under the Amethi Lok Sabha seat – Tiloi and Jagdishpur – and was runner up in Salon, Gauriganj and Amethi (assembly seat), which went to the Samajwadi Party.

It fared even worse Rae Bareli, where the party had lost all five Assembly seats, finishing third in all segments barring Harchandpur, where its candidate came second. The Samajwadi Party won four of the five seats.

There have been back-of-the-envelope talks between the two parties about stitching up a secular alliance for next year’s polls, to posit a strong alternative to the BJP and Mayawati’s BSP. Murmurs of a probably tie up have been growing in recent months, with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also hinting at it. But the deadlock over seat-sharing has cast a shadow over the possibility of the alliance.

“We are ready to discuss those Assembly seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli where Congress had come number two,” a senior Samajwadi Party leader said. “But giving up as many as 15 sitting seats to the Congress is almost impossible. Both parties will have to be flexible so that a secular alliance can emerge in the state.”

In all, the Congress is looking to contest in 100 seats – out of the 404 in the state – in the polls next year if it allies with the Samajwadi Party. The party is said to be adamant that this list include the 31 seats in which it came second in 2012, along with the 28 it won that year. The Samajwadi Party had won the 2012 polls with 224 out of 403 seats.

Outlook bleak?

Uttar Pradesh was once a Congress bastion, but the grand old party has not held power in the state since 1989. Since 2002, the state has alternated between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

However, the Samajwadi Party is facing strong anti-incumbency and the very public family feud between Akhilesh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav, which divided the party into two camps, has dented their image. The Congress believes that its role would be crucial for Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, as it could pull in the Muslim vote. Muslims and Yadavs usually support the Samajwadi Party, while Mayawati is eyeing a Muslim-Dalit combination of votes to propel her to victory. An alliance, many leaders feel, is thus the Congress’ only real chance at coming to power in the state.

With seat-sharing proving to be a major obstacle that could possibly derail the alliance, Congress leaders are now doing what they had avoided so far – publicly denying talks of a tie-up between the two parties.

This is perhaps what led Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh to tell party workers in Meerut on Saturday, “We are not planning an alliance with either the Samajwadi or any other party ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls.” He urged them to focus on ensuring a Congress victory and said that “all this talk of alliance is being spread by opposition parties.”

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