It is this edge which has Congressmen worried, coupled with the fact that rumours of a post-poll tieup between the Congress and the SP have assumed a life of their own. Arrey pucca hoga madam, says Dhananjay Yadav, an SP supporter. Sapa (SP) ki sarkar hogi aur Congress ka samarthan hoga (SP will form the government, and Congress will support it), he adds for good measure, never mind the fact that both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi have repeatedly ruled out such a tieup.
In Allahabad, an area where the fight is usually between the BSP and the SP, the Congress is, after many years, in the fray for at least 3-4 seats out of a total of 12 in the district. However, the fact that the SP may get voters who may have in the past voted for the Congress worries many.
Political commentator and professor at the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute Dr Badrinarayan says rumours of a tieup will hurt the Congress. It will send out a message that there would be no difference between them. Congress votes may shift and it will split the anti-incumbency vote, he says.
In Allahabad, where the current contests are four-cornered or three-cornered, margins of victory will be small and any shift in votes would end in victory or defeat. A fact which worries Congress MLA Anugraha Narayan, contestant from Allahabad (north), a seat which will see a four-cornered fight between SP, BSP, Congress and BJP, with all four fancying their chances. Soniaji has already said there will be no post-poll tieup, he said.
Congress suffers from a deficit of political workers on the ground. In the words of one youth congress office bearer, there is only so much voluntary voting you can depend on.
The effect of the Muslim vote is expected to be most lethal with both the SP and the Congress vying for it. Muslims were upset with Mulayam Singh Yadav on three counts, one that he tied up with Kalyan Singh, two, that he did not put enough pressure on the Centre on the Batla House encounter case at a time when it was the SP which was propping up the central government, and thirdly, leaders like Azam Khan were ill-treated. Mulayam Singh has made amends, and whatever appeal the Congress has, the SP is a stronger party on the ground, says Naseem Khan, lawyer at the Allahabad High Court with several high-profile clients.
If the Congress wants to be a player in Uttar Pradesh, irrespective of whether it ties up with the SP after the polls, it has to firm up its own ground. Appearing like the B team of the SP is not the way to go.