All India Congress Committee General Secretary Digvijay Singh is seen as the suave representative of the party. He has been engaged in tough negotiations with Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh over striking a near-respectable alliance for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, which is seeking to retain the nine seats it won in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
The two leaders, both from the Thakur community, have been embroiled in a war of words over the seat sharing in UP.
Few know that the relations between the two leaders have been strained since Amar Singh was a member of the Congress, and had sought a party ticket from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, with the backing of Madhavrao Scindia. Digvijay Singh, who was the chief of the state unit at that time, ensured that Amar did not get the ticket.
After serving as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for ten years, Digvijay Singh has been entrusted with the responsibility of the Congress' affairs in UP. In an interview with Renu Mittal, Singh talks about the 'friendly fight' between the two parties in UP.
What is the status of the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance? How far have you progressed with your negotiations?
The Congress is very keen on a pre-poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The SP had extended support to the United Progressive Alliance government on the issue of the Indo-United States nuclear agreement.
Unfortunately, the pre-poll alliance has not happened as yet because of certain seats, where both the SP and the Congress have strong viable candidates. We have suggested that there could be friendly fights between the two parties in these constituencies. If we do not contest from these seats, the votes may get transferred to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. An agreement might be reached in the near future.
The agreement would entail you to contest some seats officially and some seats unofficially. Have you agreed to that?
Officially, the SP has not conveyed this to us but we understand that they would be willing to agree to such an agreement.
What is the number of seats where this 'friendly fight' is likely?
Between 6 and 8 seats.
There is an impression that after the war of words between the two parties over the last few months, such an alliance may not be viable and will not work at the ground level.
For any alliance to be viable, the transfer of votes has to take place at the booth level. So the votes of the Congress should get transferred to the Samajwadi Party wherever they have a candidate and vice versa. It is important to conduct a detailed analysis of each seat and decide on candidates who are acceptable to both parties.
Unfortunately, the Samajwadi party has unilaterally announced its candidates. After the delimitation, there has been a substantial change in each parliamentary seat, which has changed the geographical, demographical and political profile of each constituency. We can't base our seat sharing on the basis of the results of the 2004 parliamentary election. We wanted to look at each parliamentary seat afresh, but the SP did not agree to that.
Which brings us back to the question of the viability of such an alliance.
If what we had suggested at the very beginning, had been agreed to, then there would have been no problem at all. But that has not happened.
Do you expect the SP to review its list of candidates?
I don't think they can do that but it should have been considered.
Congressmen have questioned the need for an alliance under which the party is contesting around 20 to 25 seats and winning almost the same number of seats -- with or without the alliance. Is this alliance meant to keep the SP within the UPA fold in the post-poll scenario?
The need for a post-poll alliance is a political reality which no party can ignore, so that option will always remain open.
So the logic behind the pre-poll alliance with the SP is to ensure its support in the post-poll scenario?
What about Mayawati? She is the biggest player in Uttar Pradesh politics today. She won a majority on her own in the last assembly polls and will seek to repeat her performance in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. How do you perceive her role during the LS polls and in the post-poll scenario?
Mayawati is pitching for a higher number of seats, maybe as many as 50 to 60 seats, so that she can emerge as a big player and bargain with the UPA, the National Democratic Alliance or the Third Front. We all know that Mayawati is not guided by any political ideology or commitment, but by her personal agenda.
And what is that?
To become the prime minister, what else?
So the Congress is closing its options with Mayawati?
No, I did not say that. The Congress is not closing its options with Mayawati. Only one thing is clear -- there will be no truck with the BJP.
If Mulayam Singh Yadav and the SP don't fall in line, the Congress will explore other options?
No, I am not saying that. But as the saying goes, politics is the art of the possible. In thee post-poll scenario, we will explore all options to keep the BJP out.