Lucknow: If losing several leaders across states to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) wasn’t enough, the Congress is now losing its senior leaders in Uttar Pradesh to the main opposition party, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
Last week, two of Congress’ prominent Bundelkhand leaders and former MLAs, Gayadeen Anuragi and Vinod Chaturvedi, joined the SP.
There is also speculation now that the party’s western UP leader Imran Masood could also shift to the SP, according to sources. However, Masood has categorically denied this to ThePrint.
A Congress functionary who didn’t wish to be named said at least half a dozen former MPs or MLAs are also trying to switch sides, while an equal number have already joined the SP.
According to the functionary, the party is losing leaders to SP in Uttar Pradesh on account of two factors: The candidates have lost two-three elections consecutively and chances don’t seem bright this time either; and the SP-Congress alliance, which was expected to be announced ahead of the polls, is not taking shape as of now.
The Congress leaders are seeing the SP as the main opposition party, which has a strong cadre across the state. With Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) as SP’s alliance partner in western UP, the Akhilesh Yadav-led party is looking stronger this time, said the functionary.
These developments come after the TMC poached Goa’s Luizinho Faleiro and Assam’s Sushmita Dev, both senior leaders of their respective state Congress units.
Spate of exits
In the last 12 months, at least eight Congress leaders have joined the Samajwadi Party.
Salim Sherwani, a former five-time MP from Badaun, was among the first to switch sides, in October last year. He has now become an important Muslim face for the SP in western UP, with the party’s senior leader Azam Khan still in jail in a fake birth certificate case.
Annu Tandon, a former MP from Unnao, joined the SP in November 2020. While joining the party, she expressed dissatisfaction with the functioning of the Congress’ UP unit. “Unfortunately, there is a misalignment between the state leadership and me and I do not see their support in allowing me to work since the past several months,” she wrote in her letter to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Along with Tandon, All India Congress Committee joint secretary Shashank Shukla and former Youth Congress state president Ankit Parihar, from Unnao, also joined the SP.
In the same month, former MPs Kaisar Jahan and Bal Kumar Patel also switched to SP. Both had joined the Congress just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In February this year, R.K. Chaudhary, Congress’ Lok Sabha candidate from Mohanlal Ganj seat in Lucknow, joined the SP. Manjula Singh, the widow of former Congress MLA from Banda district Vivek Singh, also joined the SP last month.
Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, a prominent Brahmin leader of the Congress state unit and the great-grandson of ex-UP chief minister Kamalapati Tripathi, also quit last month. While Tripathi has said that he isn’t joining any party as of now, sources close to him told ThePrint that SP has approached him to join before the elections early next year.
A second source in the UP Congress said, “In western UP, some ex-MLAs including a Jat leader, are seeking a ticket from RLD. Another leader is trying for SP. Western UP leaders understand the current narrative after farmers’ protest,” the source said.
‘Priyanka’s team doesn’t understand situation’
Former UP Congress vice-president Gayadeen Anuragi, who joined the SP last week, told ThePrint that negligence by state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s team, which is running the UP campaign, prompted him to leave.
“I was appointed as vice-president of UP unit but I was not given any power in appointments in the districts of Bundelkhand zone though they made me in-charge of that zone. What would I do with such a designation if I won’t get any power? I was a member of Team Rahul (Gandhi). He trusted me a lot but this team didn’t respect senior leaders,” Anuragi said, adding that the SP is the only strong option against the BJP, and that many more of his colleagues from Congress could join the Akhilesh Yadav-led party.
“This election is do or die for many in their careers. We can’t bear another loss. The new team is not understanding this. We are already weak in UP. If the alliance doesn’t happen, several ex-MLAs will exit as elections come closer,” said another Congress leader who didn’t wish to be named.
Imran Masood wants it, but ‘no possibility of alliance’
There is speculation in political circles about ex-MLA and former UP Congress vice-president Imran Masood joining the SP. Sources in the SP told ThePrint that Akhilesh Yadav is planning to visit Saharanpur this month, where Masood could meet him.
However, Masood told ThePrint that no such possibility exists. But he added that he is firm about his belief in an SP-RLD-Congress alliance. “To defeat BJP in the state, SP, RLD and Congress should come together, otherwise votes will be divided and BJP will win again,” he said.
Masood also added that he has conveyed to UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that without an alliance, Congress won’t get too many seats.
Several SP functionaries confirmed to ThePrint that there is no possibility of an alliance with the Congress.
“Congress has approached us but we do not want any alliance due to our experiences of past two elections (2017 and 2019). So we want to contest this election by accommodating smaller parties only, not the Congress or BSP. It is more beneficial for us if Congress will contest solo because they can cut BJP’s upper caste votes on some seats,” said an SP functionary who didn’t wish to be named.
During her Lucknow visit in July, Congress’ UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi said the party is “open-minded” for an alliance. Several Congress leaders then reached out to SP, but talks couldn’t get finalised, said a party source.
UP Congress spokesperson Vikas Srivastava also distanced the party from Imran Masood’s statement about an alliance.
“Imran’s statement is personal and has nothing to do with the party. We are planning to fight on all 403 seats. The party is developing new leadership in UP. There is a training camp going on at Vidhan Sabha level. We are focusing on developing our cadre for every booth to contest on all 403 seats now,” Srivastava said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)