By any stretch of imagination it was an unusual spectacle that unfolded in Lucknow on Sunday January 29. The poll-bound state has been hogging the headlines for the last several months for several reasons, but on this day, the only event that drew everyone's attention was the coming together on one platform of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The two politicians, whom their respective party people lovingly call 'youth leaders' shared the stage for a joint press conference in a city hotel to announce that they had indeed come together as part of an electoral alliance cemented on the mutually-shared intention of keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party out of power.
This was for the first time that these two leaders were seen together for any purpose. While in the past few years the two have criticised each other on various occasions, their comments for each other have increasingly reflected mutual admiration especially in the run-up to the electoral alliance.
While Akhilesh said the 'cycle' (SP's election symbol) will gather speed after getting the support of 'hand' (symbol of the Congress), Rahul said the alliance was forged to give more opportunities to the youth, poor and deprived sections of the state. Rahul also repeatedly said that he wished to do away with the "politics of anger" that had been initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rahul also described the alliance as being "two wheels of the vehicle of progress" for Uttar Pradesh.
However, at the joint press conference there were many direct questions but there were no direct answers. Some questions that went unanswered were:
- When exactly did the Congress feel the need for an alliance after it had already announced Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate.
- Whether the Congress felt its previous slogan of 27 saal UP behaal (Poor governance in UP in past 27 years) had become irrelevant now.
- Will this alliance continue for the 2019 Lok Sabha election with Akhilesh promoting Rahul as the Prime Ministerial candidate.
- What was the role of Priyanka's role in forging the alliance and whether she would campaign for the alliance in the coming days.
- Whether Dimple yadav, the wife of Akhilesh Yadav, will be part of the joint campaign in the state.
Incidentally, Rahul offered to answer most of the questions with Akhilesh intervening only to highlight the work done by his Government in the state. Also, Rahul compared the alliance between the two parties as being similar to the merging of the rivers Ganga and the Yamuna at the Sangam. In fact he repeated this analogy at least half a dozen times during the hour-long press meet.
The alliance has been fixed after prolonged negotiations on both side and only a day before there were reports that it might come unstuck over the contentious issue of seat sharing in Amethi. Even till now, the exact formula for the ten Assembly seats of Amethi is not clear. The Congress has contended that it will contest all ten seats, whereas the Samajwadi Party has announced its candidates for four seats while six have been given to the Congress. Among the SP candidates is Gayatri Prajapati, former minister for mining, from Amethi. At the joint press meet also this question was raised but Rahul preferred not to give a direct answer, saying instead that it was "not the central issue" in the alliance.
The two politicians took potshots at the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But when it came to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, Rahul said he had great respect for her and that she was "much better" than the BJP and the RSS. But in reply to a question whether the BSP too could have become a part of the alliance, Akhilesh said there was no place for such a "big person" as Mayawati and the 'elephant' (BSP's election symbol) in the alliance.
The scene at the GPO crossing, a few metres away from the State Assembly Building, was festive since the morning with banners, posters and photographs depicting Rahul and Akhilesh, the two parties' symbols and the slogan UP ko ye saath pasand hai being raised by workers of the two parties. The two leaders then proceeded to participate in the joint rally and roadshow that started from the centre of Lucknow and went through predominantly minority-inhabited areas of the old city.