New Delhi: The Congress party’s search for alliance partners ahead of the 2019 general election has encountered a hurdle with regional parties talking tough.

They are insisting the deal be made operational in the upcoming round of state elections—where the national party is in direct contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In other words, the Congress will have to cede tickets to the smaller parties in the upcoming assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

If it goes along, the Congress has to cope with stronger regional allies—worse, their future growth, given the common ideology, could potentially come at the expense of the Congress.

Leading the campaign for opposition is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, who on Tuesday announced that the Congress will have to reach an understanding on seat-sharing with her in the forthcoming polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. A similar demand has also been made by Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, who also wants a share in the three election-bound states.

“BSP will contest elections as part of coalition government only if it gets a respectable number of seats. BSP wants to tell Congress leaders giving reactions about an alliance with BSP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, that the same condition applies to Congress as well," said Mayawati in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The political demands of the BSP and SP are crucial as Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats and the Congress is dependent on the two regional parties to improve its electoral prospect. The state was instrumental in bringing the BJP to power by electing 73 of its MPs in the 2014 general elections.

Bihar, too, is a cause of concern as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has also asked the Congress for a seat-sharing arrangement in both Bihar and neighbouring Jharkhand.

“We agree with the decision taken at the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Congress should play the role of a major partner in states where it is strong but it should also take along smaller parties in such states. Similarly, in states where Congress is not strong, it should allow regional parties to play the role of the dominant partner," said Manoj Jha, Rajya Sabha member and senior RJD leader.

Apart from the Hindi heartland states, the Congress is facing troubles in West Bengal after Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said her party will sweep in all the 42 Lok Sabha seats from her state, implicitly suggesting it will not opt for an alliance with the Congress.

The Left parties too are being cautious and have not made public outreach to Congress with respect to a pan-India pre-poll alliance. Earlier this month, Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, general secretary Sitaram Yechury had also ruled out a pan-India alliance of opposition parties.

“Our party has ruled out any alliance with Congress. While it may be early to forecast, alliance with Congress needs to be looked at on a state-wise basis. In some states they themselves have poor representation. It is very early to say," said a senior CPM leader who did not wish to be named.

The Congress party is, however, adopting a wait and watch policy but is hopeful that it will be able to strike an acceptable deal with its allies. “Our talks are going on with all like- minded parties but it is also a fact that conclusive understanding cannot happen on such broad based plans in such a small duration. Our party has always maintained that a respectable seat sharing arrangement, for both our allies and us, will be met. We are hopeful that state-specific pan-India alliance will take place for the 2019 polls," a senior CWC member said requesting anonymity.

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