New Delhi: In May, some two months after assuming office in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP)-controlled state government decided to fast-track at least 28 projects that had been stalled by the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regime in the constituencies of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
A week later, the SP and the Congress, which had fought an acrimonious election campaign in India’s most populous state, moved closer towards rapprochement; Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was first seated on the dais along with partners in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and later accorded the privileged seat on the high table alongside Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Then on Tuesday, the Congress decided not to field a candidate against Dimple Yadav, Mulayam’s daughter-in-law and wife of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, in the Kannauj Lok Sabha by-election.
When the dots are connected, what emerges is a new political realignment that has the potential to rewrite the prevailing equations in the UPA— a coalition in which Congress partners have been a virtual power unto themselves, often pulling in the opposite direction or wielding veto power over government programmes and policies.
Such internal differences have made the UPA, which has a wafer-thin majority in Parliament, particularly vulnerable, weakening its ability to push through tough policy measures. Most immediately, the emerging realignment is likely to determine the outcome of the presidential election in favour of the Congress party, which holds the single largest block of votes in the electoral college.
Analysts maintain that Yadav has stepped into the vacuum that emerged following a rapid deterioration in the relationship between Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress party. While the two parties are also partners in West Bengal’s coalition government, their relationship remains frosty; TMC leader and railway minister Mukul Roy claimed on Tuesday that the party could go it alone in future elections in the state.
At least three Congress leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, separately confirmed that the intent was to send out a message to Banerjee. “There is definitely a method in the madness,” said one of them. “It gives a clear message in order to loosen the pressure from one ally and if it helps, it’s good for the country. We have to keep in mind the politics around the presidential election which takes central stage of national politics in a fortnight. Some political realignment needs to be done.”
“Other allies would know we have a fixed deposit,” said a second Congress politician about the thaw in relations with the SP.
On Wednesday, fresh evidence emerged that the Congress was covertly seeking to marginalize the TMC. While the Congress has openly sought political consensus to liberalize foreign direct investment (FDI) in organized retail, the party’s Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi hinted that in a federal structure no one state can hold a veto vote on the policy. Banerjee has opposed easing FDI in retail.
“If some states oppose it, let them oppose,” Gogoi said at a press conference in New Delhi after meeting trade minister Anand Sharma. “Why deny the right of other states to have FDI in multibrand retail?”
A senior Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) politician attested to the emerging realignment between the Congress and the SP.
The RLD took a proactive role in the Kannauj by-election and had sought the support of the Congress party, the politician said.
“Kannauj has considerable Brahmin population and we wanted the Congress leaders from the community to mobilize them. We wrote to many of them but did not receive any reply,” this person said. According to the RLD leader, the SP has reached a “tacit understanding” with the Congress at least in the Bareilly, Allahabad and Varanasi areas of Uttar Pradesh ahead of local body elections in the state which begin this month.
The turnaround is intriguing; from political foe the SP is rapidly transforming into a reliable Congress ally even though it’s not officially part of the UPA.
The Congress party formed an alliance with the RLD, which is led by aviation minister Ajit Singh, before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The alliance, however, could not capitalize on the anti-incumbency wave that contributed to the defeat of the BSP in the election that swept the SP to power in the state.
During the campaign, the Congress pursued a belligerent line against the SP. Rahul Gandhi, who spearheaded the Congress campaign, in a rare act of aggression, tore up the SP’s poll manifesto at an election rally.
While it is easy to comprehend the Congress’s compulsions in moving closer to the SP, what the latter will gain from the political flip-flop isn’t clear.
N. Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst, sees the development as a matter of “mutual convenience”.
“In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies..,” he said. “For the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh...the immediate thing is that the Parliament needs to be sustained. The game has started just now, the unfolding has begun now.”
With an eye on national political implications, volatile allies like Banerjee and “other uncertainties”, the Congress party is making use of every opportunity to consolidate, Rao said. He said that the party needs to ensure sufficient support ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament and the presidential election.
“For the Samajwadi Party, if it wants to go national, it needs the Congress party. And then there are cases where Mulayam Singh is involved. For all these reasons, it is a matter of mutual convenience,” he said.
A senior SP leader too agreed that it is a “mutually exclusive relationship” between the SP and the Congress party.
“We need funds from the Centre to fulfil our (poll) promises. Also many of our leader are facing CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) probes. Our focus is right now to run the (state) government and not fight cases,” said this person on condition of anonymity. A “passive relationship” does not hurt the party, he said.
Asit Ranjan Mishra also contributed to this story.