Both say they will not back any party to form government

On Tuesday, when the voluble Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, told journalists in Allahabad, “If we are not able to form the government, there will be President's Rule in the State,” it was dismissed as an instance of his usual hyperbole. But with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) separately stating publicly — and repeatedly — that neither had any intention of backing any other party to form a government in the State, there may be more to his statement. If the two national parties stick to the stand they have taken publicly, U.P. could be heading for a spell of instability, as most people anticipate a fractured verdict. That is, unless either of the two regional parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) either secures a majority — which looks unlikely at this stage — or achieves a score close enough to a majority to enable it to cobble together a government with the help of independents or the smaller parties in the fray.

Over the last few days, first Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and, then on Wednesday, party president Sonia Gandhi — at a public rally — declared that there was no question of the party joining hands with the Samajwadi Party (SP) or any other after the U.P. elections. These statements run contrary to the line that had been peddled earlier in party circles — that the Congress was looking to these elections to provide it with a partner not just in the State but, more importantly, a cushion at the Centre to provide the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with the numbers it needs in case the temperamental West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pulls out her 19 Trinamool Congress MPs from the coalition. The SP has 22 Lok Sabha MPs; the Bahujan Samaj Party 21.

Given that the statements from the Congress' top two leaders come in the wake of the BJP's top brass repeatedly declaring that they would prefer to sit in the Opposition rather than tie up with the BSP, as they have done more than once in the past, a hung Assembly could well entail President's Rule.

High stakes

A senior Congress functionary, putting the statements by the Congress president and her son in context, explained to The Hindu why the party would prefer to live in uncertainty at the Centre rather than take a step in U.P. that would negate whatever it might achieve in this election. “For the Congress, this is a high stakes election, with the role Rahulji has played in it. The feeling in the party is that if the Congress does not win back U.P., it cannot move forward,” he said, adding, “Rahulji is young — he has 10 to 15 years to build back the party again in U.P. He has made it clear that regardless of the result he will continue to work in the State. So, if in the meanwhile, we tie up with the SP or any other party, as we have done in the past, we will be back to square one. We would squander whatever gains we make in these elections.”

Besides, a spell of President's Rule, these sources added, could help the Congress rebuild its party organisation and push its development agenda. Evidently, the party's political leadership is placing a greater premium on reviving the party in U.P., no matter how long it takes, than on the UPA government running its course smoothly till 2014.

BJP aim: 2014 polls

Interestingly, the BJP's declared reasons for not wishing to tie up with the BSP under any circumstances are similar to that of the Congress. Senior BJP leaders in U.P., Kalraj Mishra, Satyadeo Singh, Kesarinath Tripathi and Yogi Adityanath all separately told The Hindu that their association with the BSP in the past had cost the party dearly: now that the party was beginning to gradually recover in the State, it wanted to continue along that path as its sights were set not on 2012, but on the general elections in 2014.

All this could well be election rhetoric and circumstances may force either of the two national parties to swallow their words, especially if any of their flock begin to stray towards whichever will be the single largest party. But the fact is: both national parties are in crisis and unless they can recover ground in the country's most populous State, they will have to continue with a hand-to-mouth existence, both depending on regional parties to make a government at the Centre.

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