Former allies gang up against Congress in north and south (Roundup)

March 26th, 2009 - 8:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party New Delhi, March 26 (IANS) Ahead of a Lok Sabha battle where every seat will count, the Congress Thursday suffered two major blows as the PMK walked away to join the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu while the Samajwadi Party, RJD and LJP teamed up to take it on in pivotal Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The Congress put up a brave face publicly, claiming it expected the PMK to return to its fold post the April-May ballot, but it was apparent that the developments would hit hard the country’s oldest party in as many as 160 Lok Sabha seats.

And the Congress is already without a friend in Andhra Pradesh, where it had along with its allies swept most of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2004 general election.

Thursday’s first setback came when the Samajwadi Party announced it was joining hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) to fight the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two states where the party has been reduced to an also ran for years.

In a gang-up that would have been unreal even six months ago, Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh said his party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav would campaign for Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP in Bihar and in turn get their support in Uttar Pradesh.

Amar Singh’s declaration was the final straw for the Congress in Bihar, where it was edged out of all 40 Lok Sabha seats by the RJD and LJP, which however remain in the Congress-led government in New Delhi.

The Congress would now be up against three varyingly powerful regional groups in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who could have been allies: Samajwadi Party, RJD and LJP. It will also have to face the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) besides the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We have decided that in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together constitute 120 seats, secular parties will go to the elections together,” Amar Singh said in New Delhi. For good measure he added: “Let there be a struggle for existence and survival of the fittest.”

Before the import of Amar Singh’s announcement could sink in came more bad news from Tamil Nadu, where the mercurial PMK announced that it was ditching the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to sail with AIADMK in Tamil Nadu (39 Lok Sabha seats) and Puducherry (one seat).

After days of uncertainty when the Congress pleaded with the PMK not to desert the DMK-Congress coalition, PMK members voted overwhelmingly at its General Council meeting in Chennai to join the AIADMK alliance.

PMK leader and central Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said 2,453 members voted to go with the AIADMK while only 117 wanted to remain with the existing DMK-led grouping in Tamil Nadu. He said he would resign from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government in 48 hours.

As the BJP rejoiced, the Congress claimed sheepishly that the PMK would return to its camp after the Lok Sabha polls. “We didn’t want the PMK to go. As and when the results come out, they will come back to us,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal said in New Delhi.

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said the developments in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu would reduce the Congress to “a fourth front in these states. They will be lucky to touch double figure anywhere”.

Political analysts admitted the PMK decision was a morale booster to the AIADMK, which is itching to avenge its 2004 humiliation when it was routed in all 40 Lok Sabha seats of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

DMK leader and former central minister Dayanidhi Maran, however, argued that the PMK’s going away would not matter. He said the DMK-Congress would sweep Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Political sources said the Samajwadi Party, RJD and LJP were desperate to check Congress attempts to revive itself — a line espoused by Rahul Gandhi, party general secretary and son of party chief Sonia Gandhi — in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The Congress is now left with allies in only three major states: Tamil Nadu (DMK), West Bengal (Trinamool Congress) and Maharashtra (NCP). Except in Maharashtra, it is the junior partner in the other two states.

Amar Singh, however, made it clear that no “secular government” would be able to take power in New Delhi without Congress involvement. “This is not sycophancy, this is the political reality,” he said.

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