Lucknow: Upset with the Congress’s refusal to spare seats for them in Madhya Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP), it is learnt, is preparing to go solo and field more candidates — a move that is likely to hurt its INDIA bloc ally’s prospects by potentially eating into anti-incumbency votes.
On Wednesday, the SP declared candidates on 22 more seats in Madhya Pradesh, taking the total number up to 31 (the candidature of one was put on hold).
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav had suggested Tuesday that he might not be amenable to “a state-level alliance” (read Uttar Pradesh) in the future if the Congress doesn’t want a state-level alliance (in Madhya Pradesh). This came days after the Congress fielded candidates on four seats in Madhya Pradesh where the SP had already announced candidates. Akhilesh’s party fielded four more candidates Sunday in addition to six declared in August.
“Congress has to say whether the INDIA Bharat alliance is at the national level…If it’s not at state-level, in future, too, it will not happen at the state level,” Akhilesh told reporters in Kanpur Tuesday.
While the Opposition grouping hasn’t yet discussed the modality of their alliance, several leaders have suggested that it should be at the state-level and not national level, given that many INDIA constituents are principal rivals in one state but work together in another state.
For instance, while the Congress is the principal challenger to the Left in Kerala, they have been aligning in West Bengal and Tripura. Similarly, the Congress is said to be interested in forming an alliance with the SP in Uttar Pradesh, but isn’t willing to partner with it in other states.
Asked by reporters if negotiations over an alliance in MP were ongoing between senior leaders of the Congress and SP, Akhilesh said that talks “went on till 1 am”, but didn’t move forward.
The SP had won seven assembly seats in the Madhya Pradesh polls in 2003, which was its best electoral performance outside of UP. It had bagged a 3.71 percent vote share, and gained mostly in the constituencies bordering UP.
In two subsequent elections — 2008 and 2013 — the SP’s performance declined in MP. While it won only one seat (Niwari) in 2008 and pulled 1.90 percent of the vote share, it failed to win any seats in 2013. Then in 2018, it won the Bijawar seat when it registered 1.30 percent vote share. However, the lone SP MLA Rajesh Shukla switched over to the BJP in June last year.
An SP leader told ThePrint that his party is now planning to field more candidates in MP, adding that they had demanded 10-12 seats from the Congress in the poll-bound state, but the Congress state leadership wasn’t ready to yield.
“Negotiations have reached an uneasy stage. We are now planning to contest more seats in MP but candidates are in wait and watch mode because national leadership of both the parties are still negotiating,” he further said, not wanting to be named.
SP leader Sunilam meanwhile told ThePrint that the Congress state leadership has been “displaying arrogance”.
He added: “If the Congress state leadership is showing arrogance, they should decide if they want to have an alliance or not…There are about 100 potential candidates of SP who can be given tickets in MP.”
However, party insiders termed this as “plan B” of the SP and an attempt to pressurise the Congress.
Speaking to ThePrint, UP Congress chief Ajay Rai said the SP has a weak base in MP, registering only one win in the last elections, while the Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP in that state.
“Akhilesh Yadav ji has to decide. They had one MLA in MP last time. In MP, you have the Congress fighting the BJP directly. SP has to support (Congress) to remove the BJP from power. Not like what happened in Bageshwar in Uttarakhand. Despite our support in Ghosi, we did not get support there. They have little base in MP,” he added, referring to the SP’s decision to field its candidate against Congress in the Bageswar bypoll in September. The BJP ended up retaining the seat.
Asked about speculation that the Congress was demanding around 15-20 Lok Sabha seats in UP, Rai said they are preparing to fight all 80 seats in the state and a final call on seat sharing at national level will be taken by the central leadership.
‘A message that SP is ready if…’
An SP leader from MP told ThePrint that the party is sending “a message that it is ready to move ahead with a plan B if negotiations don’t materialise”.
“The party is ready to field more candidates and if it does field candidates on about 100 seats, it can harm the Congress in MP. However, these pressure tactics are only to nudge the Congress to yield more space.”
The leader further said that the alliance will be officially over if negotiations between the national leadership do not materialise before 30 October, the last date of filing nomination papers in MP. “There are still a few days left…negotiations are now happening at the level of national leadership. If they fail, SP will go solo in MP.”
Other party leaders said that the fate of SP’s demand for more seats in MP will decide its approach towards seat-sharing in Lok Sabha polls in UP.
Last month, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav had reportedly remarked that the “SP will not seek seats in UP but will distribute them”.
Speaking to ThePrint, another senior SP leader said that Akhilesh’s message was clear — the party will not compromise over seats that it can win in UP and was “not ready to give the Congress around 15-20 seats that it is seeking”.
“UP is our home. Congress is seeking around 15-20 seats on the basis of its performance in 2009 polls here but look at its recent performance in UP. It is dependent on SP for winning even Amethi and Rae Bareli,” the leader said.
Sunilam meanwhile claimed that the Congress does not have cadre in UP now.
‘Congress leading fight against BJP in all states’
Meanwhile, UP Congress leaders have expressed their dismay over the party fielding a candidate in the Bageshwar bypoll in Uttarakhand last month. They see it as the reason for the Congress’s defeat, as the SP fielded a candidate there despite being part of the INDIA alliance.
UP Congress spokesperson Sachin Rawat has advised the SP to show a “big heart”.
“Congress is leading the fight against the BJP in all states going to polls. The SP lost elections in 2017 and 2022 (in UP) as well. SP needs to show a big heart. We won 21 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in UP but any decision on seat-sharing in UP will be taken by the Congress Working Committee in Delhi,” he told ThePrint.
On Tuesday, the SP released a 12-point manifesto for the election. Titled ‘Pakke vade (true promises)’ it included caste census, 27 percent reservation for backward communities, Samajwadi pension scheme for women, a response system to curb crimes against women, laptops for brilliant students, 300 units of free electricity, minimum support price (MSP) for farmers and representation to “PDA” — Pichde (backward classes), Dalits and Alpasankhyak (minorities)”.
मप्र ने समाजवादी पार्टी के विधायक चुनकर सदैव एक सकारात्मक संदेश दिया है, और इस बार और भी अधिक विधायक चुनकर मप्र की जनता समाजवादी मूल्यों और सिद्धांतों को बढ़ावा देगी. ये आशा है और जनता से ऐसा करने की अपील भी। pic.twitter.com/bv59LWAabx
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) October 17, 2023
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)