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Shimla shivers for UP Congmen

New Delhi, July 6: Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders are fervently hoping that the Shimla chintan shivir does not relegate them to the fringes of the state’s electoral politics.

They are scared that the Congress leadership, which is putting final touches to the position papers for the three-day deliberations, might elaborate on an earlier hint at forging an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party for next year’s parliamentary polls.

An alliance with like-minded parties is nowhere as critical to the party’s electoral fortunes as it is in Uttar Pradesh today — the state accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Congress leaders in the state, however, have a different argument based on a now-familiar and decade-old belief that the party will recover in the “next” elections.

“I know they (the BJP) will cling to power till the present term lasts. The Lok Sabha elections are 16 months away. Anything can happen between now and the elections next year. Why should we commit ourselves to a pre-poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party now itself'” asked a state leader, who has been invited to the Shimla session.

He and other state leaders are not willing to buy the idea of a grand pre-poll alliance to counter the BJP-led NDA. They believe that the party must not go beyond a generalised formulation on the question of alliances.

“It is better to have a formulation which does not commit us to any particular course prematurely and which leaves enough room for creative interpretations,” a senior state leader said. He added that it would be better to have a formulation more or less like the one spelled out in the Panchmarhi declaration — that coalitions will be considered when “absolutely necessary”.

These leaders do not think that the party’s reluctance to state clearly its preference for a pre-poll alliance would send wrong signals to potential allies like the Samajwadi. The Congress should now stick to what it has already stated — that it is ready to cooperate with the Samajwadi against the BSP-BJP coalition government that Mayavati heads, a Congress leader said.

Commitment on a pre-poll tie-up with the Samajwadi, they believe, would also deal a blow to the Congress’ efforts to rejuvenate the organisational set-up in the state.

“In 1996, we left 299 Assembly seats to the BSP in a seat-sharing arrangement and contested just 125 seats. Can we expect the people to look up to the Congress again if we reduce ourselves to being only a minor player in the state'” a state leader asked.

These leaders believe that the Mayavati-Mulayam phenomenon in Uttar Pradesh politics is on a decline, no matter what the electoral trends of recent years might actually suggest. It remains to be seen whether the central leadership buys these arguments at Shimla, though the leaders peddling this line constitute a strong lobby in the Uttar Pradesh unit.

The state leaders are nervous as the position papers were prepared by a committee headed by Arjun Singh, who is known to be a votary of forging pre-poll ties in states like Uttar Pradesh. Arjun Singh left no doubt about his view when even before being named to author the paper, he went public urging Sonia Gandhi to clinch pre-poll alliances within two months.

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