POLITICS

Why Akhilesh Yadav Has Been So Generous To The Congress In A Pre-Poll Alliance

The Congress got a lot more seats than it deserved.

23/01/2017 11:18 AM IST | Updated 23/01/2017 1:00 PM IST
Pawan Kumar / Reuters
A Samajwadi (SP) party worker holds a toy bicycle representing the party's symbol and a poster of chief minister of northern state of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav, following the Election Commission's decision to allot the bicycle symbol in Akhilesh's favour, outside the party's headquarters in Lucknow, India, January 17, 2017.

The Congress got a lot more seats than it deserved. In the 2012 assembly assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress had won 28 seats, and stood second in another 31. That's a total of 59 seats. In the pre-poll alliance announced yesterday, the Congress will contest 105 seats, and the Samajwadi Party 298. In doing so, the SP has even given up two of its sitting seats in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi's home turf.

What explains Akhilesh Yadav's generosity towards the Congress?

The Akhilesh faction of the Samajwadi Party had been expecting the Election Commission to freeze the cycle symbol in the dispute with 'Netaji' Mulayam Singh Yadav. Had the symbol been frozen, the potential setback to the Akhilesh campaign had meant he dearly needed the Congress.

Winning the cycle symbol came as a shot in the arm for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, but the time the whole process took has meant that Akhilesh Yadav's campaign hasn't begun yet. He is still sitting in Lucknow, whereas the BJP has been consistently campaigning for months, and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party has been working silently on the ground for two years.

While Akhilesh Yadav enjoys high public approval, the delay in beginning the campaign, distribution of seats and the sense of confusion created by the family feud has made the Akhilesh camp a little jittery about the election. If you don't campaign, you don't win.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
A worker cleans a cut-out of Rahul Gandhi (C) India's ruling Congress party Vice President, beside cut-outs of (L-R) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Akhilesh's father and chief of Samajwadi Party Mulayam Singh Yadav, India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party President Rajnath Singh and prime minister Narendra Modi.

While the family crisis helped Akhilesh further his image of a man trying to clean up his own party of crime and corruption, the ensuing confusion and delays have created an uncertainty over his prospects of winning the election. The absence of high-pitch campaigning have prevented transforming Akhilesh Yadav's public approval into an election wave.

In the absence of a perceptible wave, Muslim voters were still undecided over whether to be wooed by Mayawati's aggressive pitch or go with Akhilesh Yadav. The greatest value of the Congress alliance is symbolic: it sends a message to the Muslim vote that winnability is on this side, and Mayawati should thus not be an option for them.

Anyone who accuses us of being in cahoots with the BJP will now be silenced.

Mayawati has been playing an aggressive Muslim card, seeking a Dalit-Muslim alliance for this election.

"Anyone who accuses us of being in cahoots with the BJP will now be silenced," says an aide of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

In the 2012 assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party had won a vote-share of 29%, translating into 224 seats. With around 26% votes, the BSP had won only 80 seats. The Congress had won a vote-share of 11.6% resulting in only 28 seats.

The coming together of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress makes the arithmetic very strong. Even in the Lok Sabha election of 2014, the Congress had an 8% vote-share, despite the Modi wave. The strong arithmetic will send a signal to all voters, but especially Muslims, that it is not a BSP versus BJP election but one that is between Akhilesh and Modi.

"It's also that we had made a commitment to the Congress that we should honour. They stood by us during the family crisis and after all, we lose nothing with the alliance."

The Congress party's low but substantial vote-share makes it a terrible stand-alone player but a great alliance partner. This election will see the Congress lose its vote-share but increase its seats, just like Bihar.

"It's also that we had made a commitment to the Congress that we should honour. They stood by us during the family crisis and after all, we lose nothing with the alliance," said the chief minister's aide, adding, "Akhilesh is a long-term politician. He thinks long-term."

The long-term is perhaps a reference to the national stage, on which Akhilesh Yadav has his sight as much as his father. Just like Mamata Banerjee has sought to isolate the Left parties by aligning herself with the Congress, Akhilesh Yadav's alliance with the national party effectively ends the bonhomie between Congress and Mayawati.

Mayawati had supported the Congress in the crisis over the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand last year, and had supported the Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

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