With the Congress declaring its first list of candidates in the state Thursday evening and the Samajwadi Party announcing its first list Friday, the tussle in Badaun Lok Sabha constituency, which has been held by Samajwadi Party for over two decades and six elections, seems to have blurred the chances of a possible grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh, with both the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress making it clear Friday that they would not go back on their stance.
Badaun, in western Uttar Pradesh, is represented by SP’s Dharmendra Yadav, cousin brother of party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Dharmendra has represented the seat twice in the past: In 2009 and in 2014 and the seat has gone to SP in alliance share with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). However, when the Congress declared its first list of candidates even before the announcement of election dates, it decided to field Saleem Sherwani from Badaun, apart from Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from Rae Bareli and Amethi.
Sources said the purpose behind declaring the list this early was to send a message to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who has been claiming that the Congress was part of the grand alliance, just leaving “Rae Bareli and Amethi” for Congress, that is, the two seats won by Congress in 2014. It is for this reason that the Congress decided to field Saleem Sherwani in Badaun.
While the Badaun seat has been retained by Samajwadi party for past two decades, interestingly, it was represented by Saleem Sherwani, who is Congress candidate against SP leader Dharmendra Yadav this time, for four terms – 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004 – as Samajwadi party candidate.
Sherwani, who had started his political career with the Congress and was considered close to the Gandhi family, had won from the seat in 1984 but later joined SP and was elected as MP four times from the seat until SP decided to give ticket to Dharmendra Yadav from the seat in 2009.
The same year, Sherwani returned to the Congress, contested and lost to Dharmendra Yadav. In 2014, he contested from Aonla Lok Sabha constituency but lost again.
Congress, which had earlier brought in a little-known outfit Mahan Dal into its fold, has now decided to field Dharmendra Yadav’s rival Sherwani. Sources within Congress say Mahan Dal, which has a base among a reasonable number of Maurya and OBC population in Badaun and had offered its support to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Lucknow earlier, was brought into the party fold by Sherwani.
“We have an alliance with Congress but it is only on two seats: Rae Bareli and Amethi. SP-BSP alliance has left both the seats for them. Beyond that we are free to choose candidates of our choice on other seats. Our alliance with them is not beyond Amethi and Rae Bareli, so both can field candidates elsewhere. There is no question of going back on the declared seats,” SP vice-president Kironmoy Nanda told The Indian Express. He added, “We had left the seat for them in the past, too.”
Saleem Iqbal Sherwani, Congress candidate from Badaun, told The Indian Express, “To defeat the BJP, an alliance could be formed but it has to be respectable. You cannot say that we have left two seats for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and Congress is part of the alliance. Alliance has to be there on a respectable number of seats.”
Sherwani added, “Alliance will not necessarily translate into votes at the grassroots level as workers of SP-BSP are rather ready to opt for Congress to defeat BJP than transfer votes between SP-BSP.”
A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said, “One thing is clear… that once declared by Central Election Committee of the party, there is no chance of party going back on its decision. We are still open to the idea of alliance on other seats but it cannot happen like 2017 with SP and Congress ending up declaring candidates on seats despite the alliance. The message is clear that at the national level, Congress stands a better chance against BJP and that would have to be respected.”