LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav today praised Rahul Gandhi terming him a "good human being" and said he can forge a friendship with the Congress leader, setting off speculation about a political realignment in the state.
Rahul, who has been targeting the Centre during his ongoing 'Kisan Mahayatra' in the poll-bound state while only making veiled attacks on the SP government, had recently used similar encomium for Akhilesh.
"Rahulji bahut acche insan hain, bahut acche ladke hain. UP me jyada rahenge to hamari bhi dosti unse hogi...do acche log mil jaye to kya kharab baat hai? (Rahul is a good human being and a good boy. If he spends more time in UP, we can also have friendship with him...If two good human beings meet, what's wrong in that)," Akhilesh said.
In a similar bonhomie, Rahul had recently said, "Look at the young Chief Minister here. Akhilesh theek ladka hai (he is well-meaning boy) but his government isn't working."
Addressing Congress workers here on July 29, Rahul had said Uttar Pradesh has "not progressed" in the 27 years his party had been out of power.
"You voted with your heart for a youth (in the 2012 elections). Akhilesh theek ladka hai but he failed to deliver what you wanted," the Congress vice-president had remarked.
Speaking in the same vein, Akhilesh today said they can forge a "friendship" if Rahul spends more time in the state.
However, he ducked a question on whether his affability with Rahul meant a prospective pre-poll alliance with the Congress in the state.
Asked about chances of SP-Congress coalition, he said, "Aap isme rajniti kyun dekh rahe hain (Why are you seeing politics in it?)"
Senior SP leader Kiranmoy Nanda said SP would go it alone in UP. "Congress is hardly any force to reckon with in the state with which one can think of a tie-up," he said here.
Rahul avoiding criticism of the SP government forced BJP state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya to question his "silence".
"Why is Rahul silent on the misdeeds of the SP?" asked Maurya.
"He is blaming the central government for the misery of farmers and backwardness in UP," he said.
Samajwadi Party is in talks with smaller political outfits like Rashtriya Lok Dal and Quami Ekta Dal ahead of the polls.
Congress hopes to get enough seats to ensure it remains in the game and hopefully be part of a post-poll alliance with Samajwadi Party or Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party.
SP and BSP provided crucial prop to the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre for 10 years, a point BJP president Amit Shah has been highlighting at his election rallies in UP.
Party insiders say SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is thinking along the lines of Nitish Kumar in Bihar to create a 'mahagathbandhan' with Congress and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal to puncture the BJP's prospects believing their (BJP's) loss in UP will have an impact on 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
According to analysts, a SP-Congress alliance could be a win-win situation for both. SP will benefit from consolidation of Muslim as well as a section of Brahmin votes while Congress will benefit from the SP's cadres and its grassroots workers, they point out.
Poll surveys indicate UP is likely to throw up a hung assembly.
In this context, the Congress vote share of 8-10 per cent can tilt the scales in favour of the SP. In 2007 and 2012, UP saw a predominantly two-way contest, and the party which secured 30 per cent of the votes won.
However, in 2017 there is a multi-cornered contest and 30 per cent vote share may not ensure victory for a party. That is where Congress' vote share is crucial.