Maya has demanded 40 seats in a prospective grand alliance with SP, Congress in UP.
Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati has demanded 40 seats in a prospective grand alliance with the Samajwadi Party and Congress in Uttar Pradesh, a state with 80 seats, The Sunday Guardian has learnt from reliable sources. This comes at a time when the Congress has stepped up efforts for building an anti-NDA axis in Maharashtra, UP, and Bihar, hoping that a united Opposition in the three states, which commands a total 168 seats, could decisively tilt the fate of the 2019 elections in its favour.
Sources said that though they are hopeful Mayawati will relent, there is apprehension that the Congress will be under increased pressure to make sacrifices as it hunts for allies and tacit partners in the above three states. Sources said the Congress’ senior leaders are in regular touch with all potential allies, including the Thackeray cousins in Maharashtra.
“The Congress’ strategy is clear. We will exploit every single possibility of an anti-Narendra Modi alliance, including with partners who may not be seen as ‘secular’, such as Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray. The leadership will maintain in public that the coalition will be ideologically motivated, but the fact is that back-channel talks are on with both Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in Maharashtra to tailor out electoral adjustments,” a source from the AICC told this reporter.
The three states send 168 MPs to the Lok Sabha—UP 80, Bihar 40, Maharashtra 48. In 2014, the Congress had scored only two seats each in Maharashtra, Bihar and UP. The party now hopes that with the help of formal allies and clandestine poll-partners it can check the BJP juggernaut, which had, in 2014, claimed 71 seats in UP, 22 in Bihar, and 23 in Maharashtra.
However, Mayawati, said sources, is playing pressure politics and has demanded 40 seats. This leaves the Congress and Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party with the unpalatable option of dividing the remaining 40 seats between them.
“Mayawati has shocked all by expressing her wish to contest 40 seats. But we know she is only pressuring us to clinch a good bargain. She knows that going to the hustings alone would be calamitous. She will have to concede, but the Congress may have to make sacrifices in these three states for the sake of a grand alliance,” said a source from UP Congress.
A source from Bihar Congress, who is also a national coordinator, said that seat sharing has been almost finalised in the Nitish Kumar led state, with the Congress willing to come down from 12 seats it had contested in 2014 to eight seats. The Upendra Kushwaha led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, a BJP ally with three MPs currently, is all set to join the RJD-Congress fold, said the source.
The source added that the UPA is trying hard to wean away another NDA ally, Ramvilas Paswan (Lok Janshati Party), but the latter seems to be in a “wait and watch” mode.
The source said resentment is brewing within the state unit in Bihar owing to delay in announcing a full time president of the BPCC. “In June, when we met Rahul Gandhi, we were given an assurance that a decision to this effect would be taken in a week. But nothing happened. The non-serious approach of the high command towards Bihar Congress has led to a situation where factionalism and the possibility of defection are bound to grow stronger,” the source said.
Shakti Sinh Gohil, senior leader from Gujarat Congress, was made the state in-charge in September 2017. Two secretaries were also deputed to the state at the time—Virendra Singh Rathore and Rajesh Lilothia. “Despite a whole team in place what is the reason Kaukab Qadri is still continuing as the working president?” asked another source from Bihar Congress, while resonating the apprehensions within the party.
In Maharashtra, a source from the party’s state unit confirmed to this reporter that despite the party stating in public that there would not be any alliance with the Shiv Sena, talks for electoral understanding at a constituency to constituency level are on. In Jharkhand, where the BJP had won 12 of 14 seats in 2014, sources said that not only an alliance between Congress and Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is “final”, but efforts are on to get Babulal Marandi and his Jharkhand Vikas Morcha to its fold.
In a departure from its recent efforts to project Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial face, the Congress has now stated that the matter would be resolved post results. Rahul Gandhi maintains in public that he is not opposed to any “secular” face emerging as a consensus candidate for the top job.
Sources confirmed: “The party has realised that it is too oddly placed to propel Rahul as the Opposition face. So it has decided to leave the matter to future. But the real strategy of the party is to repeat a 2004 like scenario when the Congress, once it turned out to be the single largest party, assumed the leadership role.”