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Will Akhilesh make unlikely moves to keep BJP out of UP?

By Ratan Mani Lal

A day before the Big Day, Lucknow is agog with all kinds of wild and exciting possibilities. Out of the more than 14 crore voters in Uttar Pradesh, nearly 60 per cent have marked their choice and all the three major political formations in the fray are claiming that they are the favoured ones.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi

But despite the day of results being so close, there are signs of upheaval in the ruling Samajwadi Party that could speaks volumes about the stakes the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav seems to have put in the 2017 assembly election.

Having emerged as the statutory custodian of the Samajwadi Party and its symbol at the end of a prolonged internecine conflict within the party, Akhilesh put his political reputation at stake by aligning with the Congress party to take on the big challenger Bharatiya Janata Party. This coalition came after months of speculation and rumours. At the end of it all, it was made to appear that his friendship with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was more important than all the high-sounding talk about Kaam bolta hai. The coalition with the Congress, apparently, was supposed to weigh in heavier on voters' minds than the expressway, metro train, pension scheme, free laptops and other projects that the SP government had launched.

The exit polls on March 9, however, indicated that the 'development' works as well as the alliance with the Congress had possibly failed to win popular support for the SP-Congress combine. The combine, without exception, was placed at the second spot after the BJP with the Bahujan Samaj Party at the third spot in all the exit polls conducted by various TV channels and agencies.

Instead of saying that the exit polls were not needed to be taken seriously and one must wait for the actual results, different representatives of the SP took it upon themselves to give out predictable yet unwarranted statements about the exit poll results.

First, it was a Cabinet Minister Ravidas Mehrotra who holds the dubious distinction of having been arrested for the maximum number of times in his political career. He said that the SP was better off without the Congress, and that the Congress workers did not do anything to help SP candidates, and that the SP would have won more seats if it had fought the election alone. It was obvious that the blame for the supposed poor show of the SP was being laid at the doors of the Congress.

Then came the statement of Mohammad Azam Khan, another senior cabinet minister who is said to be the most prominent Muslim face of the SP. He said that the blame for the supposed defeat of the SP did not rest upon Akhilesh alone. The hint was obvious that the Congress could be responsible for the combine's poor show. Interestingly, statements of both Mehrotra and Khan indicated a Congress-style defence mechanism where, in case of an electoral setback, the party president is never to be blamed.

And then came the much-quoted statement of Akhilesh himself. He said in an interaction with a news organisation that no one wanted President's Rule in the state and BJP running the government 'through remote control'. And then he did not rule the possibility of a tie-up with the BSP, recalling how he used to call Mayawati bua (aunt or father's sister). He indicated that he would be open to all possibilities to prevent the BJP from coming to power.

For Akhilesh, the success of the alliance with the Congress is vital for his political future, since not many in his party or family take kindly to the decision, and if the SP-Congress combine failed to come to power on its own, it could well put a big question mark over his political maturity to have taken the decision about the alliance.

Throughout the campaign, Akhilesh has commented upon Mayawati as 'the leader of the party of stones' in an apparent reference to the huge marble-and-stone monuments built by Mayawati during the BSP regime in the past. However, the more scathing comments were always reserved for Modi, including the jibe related to 'donkeys from Gujarat'.

On the other hand, Mayawati never made a scathing comment against the Congress or Rahul, reserving her barbs instead for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Akhilesh. Earlier on, on the day of their first joint press meet, Rahul had made clear his respect for Mayawati even as Akhilesh had made a sarcastic comment about her.

Could it be that Akhilesh is expecting his newly-found ally Rahul approaching the BSP to cobble up a coalition in case the numbers of the two parties so demanded and the BJP fell short of a simple majority? Could it be that Akhilesh too was trying to put up his case before Mayawati? Could it be that in case of none of the three formations reaching the magic figure of 202, it could be Congress+BSP, or SP+BSP, or better still, SP+Congress+BSP that could approach the governor with a claim to form to keep the BJP out of power?

Could it be that the BJP wanted just this to happen in case it was not reaching the magic figure?

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