Can Prashant Kishor make Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh shake hands in UP?
On paper, this friendship has the potential to destroy all other rivals, including the BSP and BJP.
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“Rahul is a good boy and we can be friends” - this statement by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is perhaps the first official indication of what political analysts have been speculating for the past couple of months - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress could form an alliance for the Assembly polls scheduled in the state next year.
On paper, this friendship has the potential to destroy all other rivals, including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and BJP. Both SP and the Congress depend on Muslim votes and the alliance will ensure that Muslim votes are not split.
The Congress is hoping that projecting Sheila Dikshit, a Brahmin, as CM candidate will help it gain upper-caste votes. Add to that SP’s hold over backward class votes.
But numbers on paper don’t necessarily get reflected in ground results. There is no clarity on whether this friendship is between two young, dynast politicians, educated abroad or between two political parties.
Senior leaders of both parties - Congress UP general secretary in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad and SP vice-president Kironmay Nanda - have ruled out an alliance.
Akhilesh Yadav, who has recently been asserting his command over the party, is still not the final word in SP. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, now the de-facto head of the party, is known for painfully slow decision-making process.
Of course, Rahul was the prime catalyst in forming the unimaginable coalition between the Nitish Kumar-led JDU and Lalu Prasad-led RJD in Bihar.Election strategist Prashant Kishor is believed to be the first mover of the idea of a coalition between the SP and Congress. (Photo credit: India Today)
His personal rapport with Nitish, coupled with the political maturity shown in shaking hands with Lalu - a politician Rahul was not particularly fond of - helped the Congress president in stitching that impossible alliance.
He also must not forget the key role played by election strategist Prashant Kishor - then hired by Nitish - in making this experiment successful.
Today, Kishor is directly working with Rahul, and if sources are to be believed, is the first mover of this idea of a coalition between the SP and Congress.
His electoral arithmetic seems to have convinced several leaders in both parties about the inevitability of an alliance, but the leadership is not yet ready to commit.
The idea of an informal coalition, where candidates from both parties will be fielded strategically, has also been explored.
Both parties have a long history of political friendship at the Centre, with occasional blot of betrayal. If party patriarch and Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav ditched Sonia Gandhi at the last moment in her first claim to power in 1999, the same party also saved the UPA government in 2008 over the nuclear deal with the US.
Last year, after initially joining the Nitish-Lalu grand alliance in Bihar, the SP suddenly pulled out of the coalition. What will worry Congress perhaps is Mulayam’s track record of betraying political friends - VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Sonia Gandhi, Kanshi Ram, the Left leaders and Mamata Banerjee.
This is where the leadership qualities of Rahul and Akhilesh will be put to test. Will they be able to convince the party elders to follow and execute this strategy of friendship?
Whether they can form a strong, workable coalition between the two parties will also make a comment on their grip over their respective parties.