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Ajit to contest UP polls with Cong

New Delhi, Dec. 10 (PTI): A beleaguered UPA got a boost today as the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) decided to join the coalition at the Centre and contest the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in alliance with the Congress.

The RLD has five members in the Lok Sabha. Ajit Singh, whose RLD has five members in the Lok Sabha, met Sonia Gandhi this evening and expressed his willingness to join the UPA.

The Congress president welcomed his move, senior Congress leader Mohan Prakash, who was present at the meeting, said.

Ajit Singh, 72, will soon meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid possibilities that he could join the cabinet. Prakash said that like very partner in the UPA, the RLD too would get its share in power. Prakash hailed the RLD joining the UPA and contesting the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls with Congress as a “game changer”.

“It will be a game changer in UP elections,” he said.

He also indicated that former Union minister and Samajwadi Party leader Rashid Masood, and several other senior leaders, would be joining Congress soon. There is speculation that Singh will get 45 seats with seat sharing adjustments likely to be announced by next week. The RLD is the first party to join UPA after the 2009 general election. Ajit Singh has joined forces with the UPA at a time when some allies have become demanding.

The alliance talks between the two parties have been on for quite some time. Earlier this week, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had expressed the hope that the alliance would be formed soon. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and Ajit Singh have held meetings to discuss the seat sharing, according to sources. The talks between the two parties had run into rough weather some time back reportedly due to Ajit Singh’s demand for a berth in the Union cabinet.

Congress had come fourth with 21 seats in the last Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh held in 2007. The BJP, which has 98 MLAs in the present Assembly, has already announced it would not go for any pre-or post-poll alliance in the state.

Some recent poll surveys have put the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) among the front-runners, while the BJP stands at third place way behind these two parties.

The scenario is likely to change with the Congress-RLD joining forces, as the two parties can bank on Jat, Muslim and upper caste votes.

Ajit Singh had earlier said that the Congress and RLD should join hands, as this was the only way to defeat the Mayawati-led BSP.

Later, AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said the Congress president had agreed “in-principle” to Ajit Singh’s request.