New Delhi: The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) led by Akhilesh Yadav on Tuesday formally joined hands with the Congress to contest the upcoming elections, posing a significant challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The alliance is seeking to recreate the grand alliance (mahagathbandhan) which dealt a crushing blow to the BJP’s ambitions in Bihar in 2015.

The two parties are expected to announce details of their partnership in the next two days. Simultaneously, they have also initiated talks with former Union minister Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is influential in western Uttar Pradesh, to join the alliance.

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The decision comes a day after the Election Commission allotted the Samajwadi Party’s name and symbol (bicycle) to the Akhilesh Yadav faction, following a bitter feud between the chief minister and his father and party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Anticipating an appeal against Election Commission’s ruling by the faction led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav, a key aide of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav filed a caveat before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

A lawyer close to the development said that Akhilesh Yadav too is expected to file a caveat to ensure that the case is not heard without giving due notice to him.

Amidst continuing, but fading bickering, Akhilesh Yadav on Tuesday met Mulayam Singh Yadav and described his ties with the Samajwadi Party founder as “unbreakable".

During the meeting, Mulayam Singh Yadav reportedly asked Akhilesh Yadav to retain about 40 candidates selected by his camp. “Over 90% candidates in both the lists are common. We will finalize the list of candidates soon," Akhilesh Yadav told reporters.

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A unified SP would be the best case scenario for the party because continued in-fighting could damage its prospects, analysts said.

Meanwhile, the Congress struck an optimistic note on the fortunes of the coalition.

“I am confident that we will form the government in the state," Ghulam Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, told reporters. “Right now, we are talking about two parties. We are not going into the nitty-gritty but in the next 24-48 hours, the details, including candidate selection, will be worked out," he replied when asked if RLD would also be a part of the alliance.

Azad added that the alliance would happen under the “leadership" of Akhilesh Yadav.

“The Congress has a stronghold in certain constituencies which we have identified. Leaders from both the parties will sit together and decide how many seats each should get. Being the bigger party, SP will get a greater share of seats," said a Samajwadi Party leader close to the development, who did not wish to be named.

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Sheila Dikshit, who was initially projected by the Congress as its chief ministerial candidate, said on Tuesday that she was willing to step down once the alliance is in place.

Analysts believe the alliance will cause polarization of votes and provide a tough challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The RLD, for instance, has a stronghold in western Uttar Pradesh; similarly, the Congress and SP have a loyal voter base among Muslims and OBCs (other backward classes). The fact that the BJP still does not have a chief ministerial candidate and the new alliance will fight under Akhilesh Yadav, who is very popular in the state, will also make things difficult for the BJP," said S.K. Dwivedi, a Lucknow-based political analyst.

Apurva Vishwanath and PTI also contributed to the story.

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