LUCKNOW -- Walking shoulder to shoulder and almost identically dressed, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi today addressed their first joint press conference and held a roadshow here, giving a call for crushing BJP's politics of "anger and divisiveness".
Reflecting camaraderie and personal bonding, the scions of Congress and Samajwadi Party showcased themselves as the two wheels of a bicycle.
43-year-old Akhilesh said, "There is not much difference in age between us and today is the beginning." Rahul is 46.
"Rahul and I will take the state ahead on the path of prosperity," he said at the hour-long press conference.
The Congress leader said partnership between Congress and SP was the "uttar" (answer) to BJP's politics of anger and divisiveness.
"The alliance is the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna out of which the Saraswati of development will come out...We have similarities and differences too. We want to contest the elections on similarities and will also have to do some compromises...," Rahul said.
"Yeh dil ka alliance hai, mil ke jeetenge (It is an alliance of heart, we will win together)," the Congress leader said.
During the hour-long press conference, the two leaders repeatedly invoked imagery of rivers coming together and Congress' election symbol 'hand' pushing Samajwadi Party's 'bicycle' towards progress and development.
Rahul said the alliance was for three Ps - progress, prosperity and peace - to which the SP president added another P - people.
Days after stitching an electoral alliance for the high stakes assembly polls, Rahul arrived here on a special plane from Delhi for the maiden outing of the two leaders since the pact was announced for the polls, which start from February 11.
Out of the 403 assembly seats, SP would be contesting 298 and Congress the rest 105.
Insisting that their alliance was "people's choice" in the elections, Rahul and Akhilesh embraced each other and launched the campaign with a tagline 'UP ko ye saath pasand hai' (UP favours this alliance).
Responding to a question on Ram Temple, Rahul said since the matter was sub-judice, he would not comment.
He said BJP rakes up the issue during every election.
Rahul's reply came to a question on BJP's manifesto which says efforts would be made to get Ram temple built in Ayodhya within the ambit of law.
When asked whether Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Dimple Yadav, the wife of Akhilesh, will campaign for the alliance, Rahul said, "Priyanka has been of tremendous help to me. She is an asset to the Congress...She has been instrumental in major party decisions. Whether she campaigns or not, it's her choice."
"Dimple is an MP, she will decide what she has to do," Akhilesh remarked.
Rahul appeared soft on Bahujan Samaj Party stating that his respect for Mayawati at personal level is "intact".
"BSP government might have committed mistakes. I personally respect Mayawatiji. I respect Kanshi Ram also and there can be no comparison between Mayawati and BJP," he said.
The Congress vice president was replying to a question about the possibility of an alliance with BSP in the future.
"BSP ran government and had committed mistakes but the respect is intact...There is a lot of difference between BJP and BSP. BJP's ideology is harmful to the country but Mayawati's ideology is not. Do not compare Mayawatiji with RSS," he said.
When asked if BSP could also be taken along in the alliance against BJP, Akhilesh said in a lighter vein that, Mayawati, whose party's symbol is elephant, will "require a lot of space".
When Akhilesh was reminded that he used to refer to Mayawati as "buaji" (aunt), the SP leader said, "Now I am not saying that any longer. You have not heard it from me now."
Replying to a question on Congress' earlier foray with BSP in the 1996 assembly polls after which the number of its seats decreased, Gandhi said, "History is not static and keeps changing .... alliance in 1996 with BSP was wrong and so it will be wrong this (alliance with SP) time too... situation is different now and it (SP-Congress alliance) is right strategically for the state, the country as well as for Samajwadis."
Rahul, who took most of the questions, said, "Alliance for Lok Sabha polls is open for discussion."
He was asked as to whether he will be the PM face in 2019 elections as Akhilesh is the CM face in 2017 polls.
When Akhilesh was asked if he will be projecting Rahul as Prime Minister in 2019 polls as he has accepted to contest on his face as Chief Minister, he said, "Why are you in so hurry..." .
Noting that both the leaders were together in the Lok Sabha, the SP chief said, "We know each other. Now we are glad that we have to work together."
The two young leaders also focussed on the fact they "are friends and not just political allies", and that the two parties "share much of each other's ideologies" and goals.
At one point Rahul even called Akhilesh "a good boy", which the latter took sportingly, with a grin.
It was flowers, rose petals and garlands all the way for Rahul and Akhilesh who later held a 12-km-long road show where the newfound bonhomie between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party was on display.
Boosting the morale of their supporters and signalling unity, the two leaders atop the 'UP Vijay Rath' started the road show from the GPO park in Hazratganj after garlanding the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
The especially designed Rath had pictures of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, and the alliance's catch line 'UP ko yeh saath pasand hai'.
The two leaders, who were surrounded by security personnel on the platform on the vehicle's roof from where they greeted people standing atop buildings along the narrow roads and lanes in old city areas.
As Rath moved foward, hordes of Congress and SP workers raised slogans and showered flower petals on the leaders amid the beating of drums and playing of songs eulogising the two parties.
The road show, which ended at the historic 'Ghanta Ghar' in the Chowk area, covered some densely populated areas of the state capital spanning the old Lucknow localities, which have a sizable Muslim population.
The meandering route was planned in such way that the message of the alliance, which was opposed by Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav when he helmed it, reached every section of the society.
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