Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav are currently addressing joint rallies and road shows aiming to stop the BJP in UP. Rahul Gandhi has likened the Samajwadi-Congress alliance to coming together of Ganga and Yamuna, and claims, "This is not an opportunistic alliance but an alliance of hearts". If it succeeds in UP, they propose to continue the tie-up in 2019 when the Lok Sabha polls will be held. They claim that the alliance stands for 3 Ps – Peace, Progress and Prosperity. The question is will the duo click and how long will they continue this bonhomie?
Both Rahul and Akhilesh want to secure the Muslims vote and portray themselves as the new champions of the Muslim cause. Their aim is to prove that this is not just for a limited display but that the two parties are standing together towards achieving their common goal of keeping the communal forces away.
But the flipside is the anti-incumbency baggage of theAkhilesh regime besides the prospects of a division in Muslim votes between the alliance and the BSP, something which the BJP is hoping for. BJP is also looking to the Hindu-Muslim polarisaiton, which helped the party in the past.
It is striking to see the scions of the two dynasties side by side -Akhilesh sporting a cap and Rahul Gandhi in his blue jeans and white kurta standing atop the specially designed ‘poll rath'. Their tagline is – UP ko ye saath pasand hai (UP likes this alliance). If politics depends on chemistry, their body language shows that they are very friendly. The Agra road show on Friday was bigger than the earlier Lucknow road show.
It is all very well to be seen together, to campaign together and seek votes together but will this gamble work in a state which is known for its caste politics? I remember Sonia Gandhi at a dinner hosted for scribes after her first foray into electoral politics in 1998 saying “UP is caste, caste, caste and nothing else.” Not much has changed in these two decades.
The first problem for the SP and the Congress is to change their mind-set. The SP founder Mulayam Singh had nurtured the party these past 25 years on anti- Congress sentiments. Mulayam had always been particular about not giving the Congress any chance to revive. The Congress too had been bashing the SP till recently. Can the two young leaders make their parties forget this and make them work together at the ground level? It may be bonhomie at the top but what about the bottom level? The problem is acute because they had announced the poll tie-up too late giving no time for cadres of both parties to digest the news and reconcile to it. So compatibility is the immediate and first issue.
Secondly, there is trust deficiency between the two top leaders of the parties. The SP patriarch Mulayam Singh is still sulking about the poll tie-up and refuses to campaign for his party. "I am completely against the alliance. I will not campaign for it," Mulayam had declared last month. His presence in the campaign is a must for the young Akhilesh as it was Mulayam who had nurtured the crucial Muslim– Yadav constituency all these years. It is a question mark whether they will remain with the party after the ugly family feud in the past two months, which some claim was designed to project Akhilesh as a strong leader. Mulayam is naturally reluctant as he is not in a position to explain to his constituents why the SP has tied up with the Congress. He had always apprehended that any tactical opening for the Congress would give the Muslims a chance to desert SP and go back to the Congress.
Moreover, can both Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam forget the past? Sonia cannot forget the time when Mulayam refused to support her claim for the prime ministership in 1999 after the fall of the Vajpayee government when she had gone to the President claiming she had 272 MPs, the required majority? Can Mulayam forget how she cold shouldered him when he landed up uninvited at Sonia’s dinner to celebrate the UPA victory in 2004? But the young leaders in both parties are willing to move on be it Akhilesh or Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi. This is why the two parties are in alliance now.
If Bihar was about caste UP elections this time are about youth power. While it is a challenge for the Rahul-Akhilesh duo to convert the surging crowds into votes, the BJP may have a bigger challenge to counter this because it does not have charismatic youth leaders of a stature to match Akhilesh and Rahul. It is entirely depending on the Modi magic. Of course BSP supremo Mayawati is working quietly and her silent voters might perform a coup if the Muslims join them. When the results are announced on March 11, it will be clear whether the Modi magic works or the Akhilesh-Rahul combo succeeds or Mayawati triumphs.