The Rashtriya Lok Dal, an ally of the Samajwadi Party, has batted for a united opposition for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and said that without the Congress no front can be effective in countering the BJP.
The comment by the RLD's Uttar Pradesh unit chief Ramashish Rai ahead of the June 23 meeting of opposition parties in Patna assumes significance in light of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav maintaining that seat distribution should be decided considering which alliance partner is the strongest in a particular state.
The June 23 meeting of opposition parties, called by Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, will see anti-BJP players chalk out a strategy for the Lok Sabha polls.
"The RLD is in favour of a united opposition. It will endorse the outcome of the meeting to evolve a consensus on opposition unity. We are of the view that without taking the Congress along, no front (against the BJP) can take an effective shape," Rai told PTI.
Asked if there was a strain in the relationship between the Samajwadi Party and the RLD, he said, "The party workers are disappointed with the outcome of the recently-concluded urban local bodies polls in Uttar Pradesh. They feel the results could have been different had the SP and RLD fought together."
Rai, however, stressed that "since we are aiming for a big transformation, the RLD wants the SP, Congress and Azad Samaj Party to sink their differences and work together to bring about a change."
The Samajwadi Party's chief spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary, when contacted, said his party's alliance with the RLD was "fully intact".
"The BJP will lose in all the 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh in the 2024 polls. For that, people should show large-heartedness and help the Samajwadi Party. We are already in alliance with some parties, including the RLD. Akhilesh Yadav will accommodate other parties which is why he spoke about large-heartedness," he said.
"In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party gave 105 seats to the Congress (as part of a pre-poll alliance deal). Any big party, which is capable of defeating the BJP, should help the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls by showing a large heart," Chaudhary added.
When asked whether the party is willing to accommodate the Congress, he said, "A decision in this regard will be taken at the June 23 meeting of opposition parties in Patna."
Top leaders of most opposition parties, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Tamil Nadu counterpart M K Stalin and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal have agreed to attend the June 23 meeting.
Meanwhile, a senior RLD leader said party workers think that their chief Jayant Chaudhary "should not be a martyr" in case Akhilesh Yadav wants to go alone in the parliamentary polls.
"The RLD workers of Uttar Pradesh in general and those from the western parts of the state, in particular, feel that Akhilesh Yadav will finish the RLD. The party has a natural alliance with the Congress.
"Muslims have made up their mind to go with the Congress. And, if the RLD, Congress and Azad Samaj Party come together, there will be no need for anyone else. RLD workers have already said that there is no threat from the Congress. The threat is from Akhilesh Yadav," the senior RLD leader told PTI.
He claimed that "any transformation in the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls is not possible without the Congress."
"The Congress too wants the RLD to align with it. Our party chief Jayant Chaudhary had met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. There is pressure from party workers and leaders that it should go with the Congress.
"If Akhilesh Yadav comes along, he is most welcome. But, if he decides to go alone in the Lok Sabha polls, the RLD should not be a martyr along with the Samajwadi Party," the senior RLD leader said.
He claimed that as against the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the Muslim votes were divided, this time "those are leaned towards the Congress and not the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party".
"With Mallikarjun Kharge becoming the Congress chief, Scheduled Caste voters are for the first time seeing him as a prime ministerial candidate. Because of these two reasons, the Congress has gained strength," the RLD leader opined.
He explained that in the recently concluded Karnataka Assembly polls, Muslim votes shifted towards the Congress instead of going to the JD(S). "This shift will happen in the entire country. Kharge's appeal among the Scheduled Caste voters will have an impact," the RLD leader asserted.
RLD sources claimed that in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, "Akhilesh Yadav took away our winning seats in the last moment".
They claimed that while the RLD had demanded 35 seats from the Samajwadi Party, "Akhilesh Yadav made his candidates contest on our tickets on 10 seats. "On the seats where the RLD was confident of a win, Yadav fielded his candidates," a source claimed.
"In the urban local bodies election, we were thinking of a joint contest. But the Samajwadi Party declared its candidates in RLD strongholds of Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut and Shamli. RLD workers and leaders welcomed Rahul Gandhi when his Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through UP. The party that in the current scenario, it should move with the Congress," a senior party leader said.
The Samajwadi Party contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the BSP and RLD. Of the 37 seats it had contested in Uttar Pradesh, it managed to win in just five, two of which -- Rampur and Azamgarh -- went to the BJP in the 2022 bypolls. The RLD fielded candidates in three seats and lost all while the BSP won 10 of the 30 seats it had contested.
BJP won 62 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 general elections while its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) won two.