Over the past two days, the Congress leadership has reached out to Uttar Pradesh (UP)’s grand alliance, but Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP)'s Akhilesh Yadav have rejected the overtures and equated the Congress with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the gathbandhan’s principal rivals in the state.
On Thursday, Mayawati accused the BJP and the Congress of a tacit understanding and unitedly working against the Samajwadi Party (SP)-BSP-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance in the state.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav also dismissed Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's statement that her party, wherever it was not in the fight, was helping the SP-BSP-RLD alliance against the BJP. "I don't believe that the Congress has fielded weak candidates anywhere. No party does it. People are not with them, so they are making excuses," Akhilesh said.
In the context of the polls in UP, where 41 seats will vote in the next three phases, Mayawati and Akhilesh's statements were carefully crafted to prevent splitting of votes between the gathbandhan and the Congress. She said Congress leaders think it is not a problem if BJP candidates win, but the nominees of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance should not win the polls.
“The Congress wants to benefit the BJP. Who taught central agencies to intimidate opposition leaders?” Akhilesh said.
Mayawati appealed to voters not to waste their votes by supporting the Congress. The Congress strategy in UP is to focus on 18 seats it considers ‘winnable’. For this, the Congress intends to rely on its traditional vote base comprising Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims. The gathbandhan, if it has to do well, also needs the support of at least Dalits and Muslims.
Amethi and Rae Bareli, Gandhi family strongholds, vote on May 6. The Congress needs votes of the respective support bases in these two seats and elsewhere it believes it has a chance of winning.
"The Congress and the BJP do not want people who suffered due to casteism, communalism, capitalism to rule in any way. These parties are two sides of the same coin," Mayawati said, accusing the Congress of fielding candidates that are eating into the support base of the alliance.
Mayawati’s sharp comments came after Priyanka on Wednesday said her party was helping the gathbandhan win against the BJP wherever Congress was not in the fight.
In an interview with NDTV on Thursday, Rahul echoed his sister. He said the picture in UP was clear that a “secular formation is winning”, whether the SP-BSP or the Congress. He said the Congress is helping the SP-BSP wherever it does not have a strong candidate. He said he has told his sister (Priyanka) and Jyotiraditya Scindia that the Congress' “primary aim in UP is to defeat the BJP, help gathbandhan.”
Rahul said he was confident the gathbandhan and Congress will clean up UP, but the Congress will fight for its space wherever it thinks has a winnable chance. On Mayawati’s attacks on the Congress, the Congress president said that in the context of UP his party “is a threat” to the SP and the BSP, but he has always been respectful to the two.
On the other hand, the BJP reacted to Priyanka's statement saying that her comment that the Congress will cut into the BJP's votes in UP is a "confessional statement" about her party becoming a "fringe organisation".
Senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley mocked top Congress leaders as "chunavi Hindus" (Hindus during elections) for their visits to temples during elections, saying they never did so during previous polls and have been compelled to do so now.
Jaitley seized on Priyanka’s remarks made on Wednesday in Amethi that her party will not adversely impact the prospects of the SP-BSP alliance in UP. "This is her confessional statement about the Congress becoming a fringe organisation... A mainstream party, the grand old party of Indian politics is now a fringe organisation in India," he said.