Sharing the stage for the first time, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav justified the Congress-Samajwadi Party poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh, saying it was forged to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party’s divisive politics.
Claiming the alliance would win more than 300 seats in the 403-member legislative assembly, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president, did not rule out extending the pact to the 2019 national election.
“It is possible...but that issue would be discussed in the future,” he said.
Much of that, however, would depend on how the SP-Congress coalition performs if the alliance comes to power. Also, how each party handles the political ambitions of their respective leaders.
The Congress is keen that Gandhi be the prime ministerial nominee in the next Lok Sabha poll, whether the party goes solo or in an alliance. Yadav, UP chief minister and president of the ruling Samajwadi Party, might cultivate similar hopes, fuelled by his recent emergence from the shadow of his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, coupled with his record in office.
During the Congress-led coalition government at the Centre during 2004-14, the SP supported it from outside.
“This alliance is sending a message across the country. UP is important, as it has sent several prime ministers,” said Yadav during his joint press conference.
Displaying good chemistry, both leaders claimed an SP-Congress coalition government would hasten development in UP and also bring social cohesion.
Gandhi played down the reported friction between the two parties over seat sharing, particularly in the Amethi-Rae Bareli area, bastions of the Gandhi family.
“During negotiations, there is posturing from both sides...the Amethi seat sharing issue is a peripheral one,” he said.
Saying his sister, Priyanka Vadra, was an asset, Gandhi said it was for her to decide if she wanted to step out of the family bastions to campaign.
After their press conference, both leaders did a joint road show in Lucknow, atop a bus, waving to supporters. They traversed largely Muslim localities to send signals to the community, and later addressed a public meeting in the old city area.
The SP is contesting 298 seats and the Congress the other 105. Polling will be held in seven phases from February 11 to March 8. The results will be out on March 11.