Creating a Congress-mukt Bharat was the war cry of the BJP since 2014. A section of its opponents too are thinking likewise, though they haven’t articulated it in as many words. The SP-BSP alliance announced in Uttar Pradesh on Friday was one such. It was soft on the Congress-mukt phrase, but the message was unmistakable. Snubbed by the Grand Old Party over seat-sharing in three big Hindi-speaking states in the recent polls, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav gave the Congress a taste of its own medicine in a state that sends the biggest chunk of members to the Lok Sabha.
It’s also the state from where PMs have traditionally sprouted. Though the two parties showed the courtesy of keeping vacant Amethi and Rae Bareli—seats held by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia—and kept a back channel open for talks, the Congress knows it needs to carve out a third front with bit players more its size, than being in the big league where it aspired to belong in UP.
Regional satraps in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh too don’t want electoral pacts with the Congress. Ditto Odisha. In Bengal, both Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee and the Congress don’t see merit in coming together since their votes are not transferable. In Andhra, after the disastrous pact in the Telangana state polls, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu is expected to keep the Congress out of any coalition he builds in his state, though he is game for an alliance at the national level.
The UP message has also percolated to Karnataka where the Congress has an uneasy coalition government with the JD(S), which is asking for a big chunk of the Lok Sabha seats. It remains to be seen if Rahul has the ability to cajole and soften up the ally. In Tamil Nadu, while DMK chief M K Stalin may have enthusiastically proposed Rahul as the future PM, his party is not known to treat allies with dignity during seat-sharing talks. Strategy or otherwise, regional biggies are playing the same Congress-mukt game, giving the BJP enough breathing space, which they might end up repenting at leisure.