Congress banking on poll alliance with BSP, caste-based parties

NEW DELHI, JAN 17: With battlelines for assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh getting sharper over the last few months, the Congress has renewed its efforts to woo the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other smaller caste-based parties which will play a key role in the poll outcome.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's presence at Mayawati's birthday bash in Delhi on Monday is being interpreted in party circles as more than just a courtesy visit. Sources say it is yet another serious overture by the Congress to woo the recalcitrant BSP leader for closer ties.

It is no secret that Sonia and Mayawati share a good personal rapport although this has not translated into the Congress' political advantage. The Congress chief, sources say, is not averse to an electoral tie-up with the BSP, although a section of the party's UP unit is opposed to it.

The Congress' increasing overtures to the BSP can be traced to the fact that the latter recently categorically ruled out any understanding with the BJP in UP for the forthcoming polls.

The BSP has often come out openly in favour of going it alone in the state but such is the factional politics in the state that no single party can hope to form a government on its own.

For the Congress, which has only just begun getting its act together in the state and hopes to cash in on the anti-incumbency wave there, roping in caste-based parties opposed to the BJP as alliance partners is crucial to its overall strategy of making a comeback.

Since the Samajwadi Party is ruled out, the Congress has been focussing on the largely-dalit-based BSP, OBC-based Apna Dal and Jat-based Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). These are parties which are likely to have no truck with the BJP and may be willing to have a strategic alliance with the Congress.

However, since its electoral alliance with the Congress in the last assembly elections in UP in 1996, the BSP has been reluctant to break political bread with the Congress.

A section of the BSP leadership feels there is little to benefit from the Congress in terms of mutual transfer of votes since it doesn't have much base among the castes which don't support the BSP.

This view kept the BSP away from a poll tie-up with the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections in 1999, despite desperate feelers from the latter. But Congress circles think that the ground situation may have changed perceptibly since then.

For one, the party feels that upper castes have been gravitating to it after getting disillusioned with the BJP's performance in the state, especially in the last one year or so.

Party sources say that whether the Congress succeeds in making strategic alliances with local parties, a lot will depend on whether the party is able to emerge a serious player in the state. And Sonia seems to have realised this.

She made up with senior Congress leader Jitendra Prasada before his death to bring an end to dissidence in the state unit. Now she plans to embark on a whistle-stop tour of state, beginning later this month.

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