SP chief Akhilesh Yadav questions INDIA bloc’s viability as Congress decides to go it alone in Assembly polls

Assembly polls cannot be fought from Delhi, says Congress leader; INDIA must reconcile its ambition to defeat the BJP at the Centre with the clash of aspirations between member parties at the State level

October 19, 2023 10:54 pm | Updated 11:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference at the party office in Lucknow. File

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference at the party office in Lucknow. File | Photo Credit: ANI

With the Congress deciding to go it alone in the upcoming Assembly elections in five States, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav appeared miffed, not only at the Congress’ unwillingness to share seats in Madhya Pradesh, but also at the lack of clarity on whether the four-month old Opposition coalition INDIA was meant as a partnership only for the 2024 Lok Sabha election and not for the Assembly polls.

Mr. Yadav’s outburst on Thursday came with a warning that the Congress would meet with similar treatment in Uttar Pradesh as was meted to the SP in Madhya Pradesh. It lays out the primary challenge for the INDIA of reconciling its joint 2024 ambition to defeat the BJP at the Centre with the clash of separate aspirations between the partners at the State level.   

On October 15, the Congress released its first list of 144 candidates; hours later, the SP also released its first list of nine candidates, followed by a second list of another 22 candidates on October 18. In all, the SP and Congress will be face to face in 18 seats.

INDIA: a limited partnership

Mr. Yadav complained that the Congress had invited the SP’s Madhya Pradesh leaders for a meeting where his party’s past electoral performance in the poll-bound State was discussed threadbare. The discussions went on till 1 a.m., at the end of which the Congress assured SP leaders that it would consider six seats for them. “When the Congress list came, we got nothing! If I knew from day one that the electoral understanding of the INDIA bloc does not extend to the Assembly elections, our party leaders would not have met them, neither would we have shared the list of seats we are looking for nor would we have picked up their phone,” Mr. Yadav said.

The immediate provocation for his sharp comments was the proclamation by Ajay Rai, newly-appointed Congress chief for Uttar Pradesh, that the Congress was prepared to contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats in the State in the 2024 election. 

For weeks, the SP has been privately asking the very question that Mr. Yadav has now articulated publicly. At the very first meeting of the INDIA bloc’s coordination committee on September 13, SP representative and Rajya Sabha MP Javed Ali Khan had raised this question, pressing the Congress about conceding seats to the SP in Madhya Pradesh.  

‘Delhi cannot dictate terms’

The Congress top brass is maintaining a studied silence over Mr. Yadav’s lamentations. A top Congress leader told The Hindu that the party had instructed its State units to try and accommodate their INDIA allies wherever possible. “The Assembly elections can’t be fought from Delhi and we cannot dictate terms. Every seat is crucial and every vote counts. While we urged our State units to be generous, the decision was ultimately theirs to take on how many seats and which ones to concede to the allies,” he said.  

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar also agrees with the Congress stand. Speaking to The Hindu earlier this month, he said, “The primary focus of the INDIA bloc is on the upcoming parliamentary elections to directly challenge the Modi government, rather than on Assembly elections in different States.” 

The regional aspirations of the INDIA partners have been tripping the coalition’s efforts to build a cohesive campaign. After its first — and so far, only — meeting, the INDIA coordination committee had announced a joint rally in Bhopal. Within days, without keeping other member parties in the loop, Congress Madhya Pradesh chief Kamal Nath cancelled the rally, using the Congress’ other campaign commitments as an excuse. The rally’s venue was shifted to Nagpur, which too could not be finalised, because of upcoming urban local body elections. 

(With inputs from Abhinay Deshpande in Mumbai)

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