Five year back, the political rivalry amongst these two leaders was magnified by the media and political analysts, as 2012 polls were not only about Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress attempting to dislodge Mayawati-led BSP from power, but to stamp their authority as the biggest youth mascot in UP.
The 2012 polls were touted to determine the political destiny of the heir apparent of their respective powerful political families and parties. The topmost leader in SP and Congress viz. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi were then reckoned keen to pass on baton to their next generation.
Before 2012 UP polls, Rahul, who represented Amethi parliamentary constituency in Parliament, had already been basking in Congress’ good show in 2009 Lok Sabha polls wherein the party improved its tally to 21 in the state with total 80 seats.
In this backdrop, a win or a decent polls show in UP by Congress would have further established him as a deserving heir apparent rather than just a beneficiary of dynasty politics.
Rahul was also being groomed as a prospective prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 LS polls.
On the other hand, then Kannauj Member of Parliament (MP) Akhilesh had already been anointed SP’s state president, which had seen his political stock rising in the party. Besides, the party manifesto was largely finalised by Akhilesh promising to give free laptops/tablets to students.
However, Akhilesh managed to trounce Rahul in the electoral battle with SP winning majority in the state assembly by cornering 224 seats out of total 403 seats, followed by BSP 80, BJP 47 with Congress finishing a distant fourth at 28 seats.
Till a few months back, SP and Congress had even been treading their separate political paths with Congress even declaring former Delhi CM as its chief ministerial candidate in the state. SP had been bereft with its internal feud for several months.
However, surgical strikes across the border and demonetisation had radically changed the political dynamics in the state prompting both SP and Congress to realise that division in votes could benefit BJP, which would spoil their future chances in the state and Centre respectively.
With the two parties deciding to fight the UP polls together, Akhilesh and Rahul are likely to campaign together and share stage during joint public rallies. Under the pact, SP and Congress would contest 298 and 105 seats respectively, although the formula is still to be sealed in some key seats, where both parties and staking claim.
The seven phases polling in UP would be held on February 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, March 4 and 8 respectively. The counting of votes would be held on March 11 for all the five states going to polls in the coming two months viz. UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.