The absence of other parties apart, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party not showing up at the opposition meeting led by the Congress on Monday points at a tough time for the grand old party in the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2022.
Monday’s meeting, held just days ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, was to firm up a collective and cohesive opposition strategy, as well as, to find a unified response to the countrywide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
While SP chief Akhilesh Yadav did not confirm his party’s participation and BSP leader Mayawati tweeted against Rajasthan’s ruling Congress for poaching six of her legislators earlier this month. She said if her party joins the meeting called by the Congress, it will hurt the morale of the party supporters in Rajasthan.
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But for the SP and the BSP, a former ally, the Congress is more trouble than help.
Leaders of both the parties said that, in their view, the Congress presents the same worries as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Senior SP leader Shalini Yadav said the Congress’ stance at the Centre and the state are different.
“At the Centre, they are welcoming of allies, and in the states, their attitudes change. The Congress is waiting for regional parties to take on the fight against CAA and then take credit, this is not acceptable to the Samajwadi Party,” said Yadav.
She also said that in the last year’s Lok Sabha elections as well, the Congress cut away more into regional votes than the BJP’s.
Another senior SP leader, not wishing to be named, said the party now wants to stand away from the Congress, which it allied with in the last assembly elections in 2017 and then in Lok Sabha elections last year.
“You can say that we stand away from the Congress in a manner equidistant to the BJP. Our party is of the belief that for the troubles in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is as much responsible as the BJP. It has caused us the same harm,” said the leader.
As for the BSP, a key organisational meeting of the party kept supremo Mayawati busy, say leaders.
“Preparations for 2022 are underway and Behenji was giving senior leaders key directives and positions,” said BSP leader Pritesh Rajbhar.
Rajbhar also said the BSP, too, believes that the Congress has only added to their worries. “There is a certain amount of distrust when it comes to the Congress; it is equally responsible,” he added.
Rajbhar said that the push by Congress’ general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the region could be a matter of distrust within the BSP.
While both the parties have said that the Congress has caused them harm, one of the key reasons could be Priyanka Gandhi preparing for a more robust role ahead of 2022 in the northern state.
She has been meeting people affected by the violence during anti-CAA protests and has lent her support to Bhim Army leader Chandrasekhar Azad, possibly making her unwelcome with the BSP.
The SP’s Yadav, however, said she does not believe that Priyanka Gandhi could affect her party’s chances.
The Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Shiv Sena and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were the other key regional forces who were not present at the meeting.