In a major turn of events ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the Congress declared on Tuesday that it will not file any nomination for two key seats in the state – the Karhal in Mainpuri and the Jaswant Nagar constituency in Etawah. The two seats hold major political relevance as Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohiya) president Shivpal Yadav are set to contest from Karhal and Jaswant Nagar, respectively. The Congress stated that the gesture is out of political courtesy to give walkover to the top SP candidates on the two seats that will go to polls in the third phase of the assembly election on February 20.
Confirming the Congress’ decision to not place any candidate in the two seats out of respect to the other party, AICC coordinator from Mainpuri Manish Shah said, “We received instructions from the high command that we should not file nomination from here, and we did so. It is part of political courtesy. It is the extension of respect by us and it works both ways. This has happened in past too.”
SP national spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary lauded the Congress’ move as a good gesture and noted, “This has happened in the past too. Both parties are anti-BJP and secular. Hence, not fielding candidates is part of political courtesy.”
Noteworthy, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have not fielded candidates against the national leaders of each other’s parties in the last few elections. Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the SP fielded no candidates against Rahul Gandhi and Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, who were contesting from Amethi and Rae Bareilly. While the Congress had earlier announced Gyanvati Yadav to be contesting from Karhal, it withdrew the nomination after SP declared the former UP chief minister as its candidate from the seat.
“Gyanwati Devi was the Congress candidate for Karhal seat. However, on instructions from the party high command, she was asked not to file her nomination,” said Congress district president of Mainpuri, Gopal Kulshrestha, adding, “Party candidates will be contesting the other three assembly seats of Mainpuri district. Vinita Shakya is Congress candidate for Mainpuri Sadar seat, while Professor Vijay Narain is candidate from Kisni seat, and Mamta Rajput is candidate from Bhongaon seat.” According to a top source from Congress, “In the last Lok Sabha polls, SP did not field a candidate against Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi so this should be seen in that spirit.”
The Karhal assembly segment in Mainpuri falls under the Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Lok Sabha constituency and had been a strong hold for the party since 1993. However, SP lost to BJP in Karhal in the 2002 assembly election. Soon after the SP declared Akhilesh Yadav’s candidature from Karhal on Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) named Agra MP and Union Minister of State Satya Pal Singh Baghel as its candidate from the seat. Baghel started his political career with the SP, and was brought into politics by Mulayam Singh Yadav while serving as the security officer of the former UP CM.
This is the second election that Baghel will be contesting against Akhilesh Yadav. He has earlier contested against Akhilesh’s wife Dimple Yadav in the 2009 Firozabad Lok Sabha by-election, and against Mulayam Singh Yadav’s nephew Akshay in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Firozabad, losing on both occasions. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by supremo Mayawati, in its attempt to consolidate its core Dalit voters, has fielded Jatav community leader Kuldeep Narayan to contest against Baghel and Akhilesh. Baghel has also been a part of the BSP and represented the party in the Rajya Sabha from 2010 to 2014.
Stating that the Mainpuri seat “is not anyone’s stronghold”, Baghel said that his entry is the surprise element every election should have. “I will fight with all my might… I have seen Kannauj, Firozabad, and Etawah (Samajwadi strongholds) fall,” he added.
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Political analysts interpret Baghel’s nomination against the SP chief as a well-planned move by the BJP to raise a close contest on the Karhal seat. According to a political expert, “They did a similar experiment in Amethi by fielding Smriti Irani against Rahul Gandhi in 2014. She gave a tough fight in the first attempt and won the second time.”
The Congress walkover to the SP top candidates comes days after Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi hinted at forging a post-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh with all parties except the BJP. “The door is closed for BJP but open for other parties. Samajwadi Party and BJP are practicing a similar style of politics because they are benefitting from that kind of politics. We are saying common people should benefit, issues of development should be raised. The parties who go ahead on the basis of communalism and casteism have only an agenda. They benefit each other,” said Priyanka Gandhi.