Kushal Jeena, Hardnews Bureau
The ruling Congress and its supporter Samajwadi Party are at loggerheads over the seat sharing in Uttar Pradesh for the next-year Lok Sabha elections at least on nine seats.
The negotiations between the two parties for an electoral understanding ahead of the polls have virtually come to a standstill after controversial SP general secretary Amar Singh unilaterally announced his party's candidates for 58 seats that irked the Congress leadership.
Speaking to Hardnews, the Congress general secretary incharge of UP Digvijay Singh has described SP's move as a pressure tactics and refused to succumb to it. The Congress president Sonia Gandhi has entrusted Singh, a former Madhya Pradesh chief minister with the responsibility of leading seat-sharing talks with SP representatives. UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Salman Khursheed assist Singh at the negotiation table.
The nine Lok Sabha seats, which are contentious, include Rampur, Agra, Farukkabad, Pratapur, Azamgarh, Kaisarganj, Gonda, Padrauna and Phulpur. Either SP MPs hold most of these seats or two of its rebels, who have switched over to Congress after being expelled from their parent party.
Initially, SP had offered only nine sitting seats to the Congress arguing the party has no strength beyond these nine Lok Sabha segments. Congress had initially staked claim on 40 seats and after few rounds of parleys it scaled down its demand to 30. The unilaterally declaration of candidates on 58 seats has triggered a spade of accusations and counter accusations between two thakur leaders of north.
Congress has been describing the proposed electoral pact with SP as part of a corporate deal because since the SP extended its support to the Congress-led UPA government on July 23 crucial trust vote in Lok Sabha, Amar Singh has written as many as 101 letters to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and none of them is linked to politics and well being of the people of Uttar Pradesh.
All the letters that Singh has written to PM are relating to seeking favours for his corporate friends particularly Anil Ambani of Anil Dhirubhai Amabani Group of Industries. The SP general secretary has taken strong exception to such charge saying Congress is indulging in dirty tricks for which the party is very well known in the political circle.
Congress has staked claim on Rampur Lok Sabha constituency from where SP Jaya Prada is sitting MP. Congress argument is that in the post-delimitation situation, Rampur has become pro-Congress and its prospective nominee Begum Noorbano has more chances of winning than Jayaprada, who is an outsider. The sitting MP from Agra Rajbabar is now in the Congress. He joined Congress on the condition that the party would nominate him from Agra. However, SP is not at all willing to leave the seat for him as Babar and Amar Singh can't see each other eye to eye. The SP has also refused to give Pratapur, Azamgarh, Gonda, Padrauna and Phulpur to the Congress on the ground that it holds all these seats in the present Lok Sabha.
Congress is also seeking Kaisarganj seat for former SP leader Beni Prasad Verma, who was shunted out of the party for leveling charges against Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh. Similarly, SP negotiators have also rejected Congress offer to accommodate Rita Bahuguna from Phulpur.
Even though the dialogues relating to electoral arrangements between the two parties have been halted, there are indications that SP might allot 23 to 25 seats to Congress as two have a common enemy Mayawati to fight against.
However, Congress is unwilling to agree less then 25 seats, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has been taking a tough posture, which has in a way rejuvenated the party works in state where the party ruled single-handedly for over four decades as the Congress activists at ground level are averse to such a pact arguing it would eat out party's mass base. "Its not the workers want such a deal, it is the leaders who this to win their seats," said a party activist to Hardnews from Amethi who have come to the party headquarters to convince the leaders not to venture out such a politically dangerous pact.
Among the senior Congress leaders state party chief Rita Bahuguna and former state party head Salman Khursheed are two who have been lobbying hard to get the deal through because they can only win their seats with the support of SP. According the a Congress source in the last meeting between the two parties Bahuguna and Khursheed attempted hard to seal the deal.
It was Digvijay who stuck to the party stand that it would not enter into any electoral pact if not given less than 25 seats. The dispute was resolved following the intervention of Rahul Gandhi who insisted that party should not undermine the feeling of the workers and bargain as hard as it can to put up a united face.
In fact, the ruling party doesn't want to loose what it is expecting to gain from the delimitation of the Lok Sabha constituencies as it amounts to benefit country's grand old party to regain its hold to some extent in the politically most significant state. Congress leadership has been working hard over the years to get back its mass base in Uttar Pradesh. For this purpose only Rahul Gandhi was assigned with the task of rejuvenating the party structure in the state. He did make some inroads while spearheading party's campaign during assembly elections in eastern and Bundelkhand regions.
In the last general elections Congress performed well in the eastern part of the state and most of its MP from Uttar Pradesh are from that part only. This time, party has pinned its hopes on eastern, Bundelkhand and a few pockets in the central parts. The pro-SP lobby in the party contends that without the support of the SP, it would be impossible to win seats in Bundelkhand and central UP as Yadav and Muslims who constitute the backbone of the SP dominate these areas.