Shivpal-Kishor meet raises prospects of UP 'grand alliance'

Could a chance encounter between Shivpal Yadav, the beleaguered Samajwadi Party state chief (and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's main rival) and Prashant Kishor, the harassed Congress poll strategist, result in a Bihar-like 'grand alliance' of secular-socialist forces in Uttar Pradesh?

The answer is a 'no', says K C Tyagi, the JD(U) leader, at whose New Delhi bungalow ''the five-minute encounter'' took place. More accurately, Shivpal, engaged in a high-visibility power struggle with his nephew Akhilesh, was reaching out to his old 'Janata Parivar' friend when he bumped into Kishor.

On the face of it, Shivpal was just inviting Mulayam Singh Yadav's friends for the silver jubilee of the Samajwadi Party.

''We're not reading anything more into the invite than Mulayam's wish to have the followers of Lohia and Charan Singh on the same stage on 5 November,'' said Tyagi, according to The New Indian Express, which also said ''no alliance talk came up.''

But, in India, politics happens between the lines. The SP supremo's overture to get the former Janata Parivan members together on the pretext of the silver jubilee is in itself not without meaning. Particularly when he's engaged in a bitter tussle with his son, Akhilesh, and is backing the latter's rival, Shivpal.

On Mulayam's invitee list are the Janata luminaries, Sharad Yadav, Tyagi, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, RLD chief Ajit Singh, former PM Deve Gowda, and, surprisingly, also Congress leaders. It's in this that the emergence of a grand alliance is anticipated.

Tyagi, however, refuses to jump the gun. ''Shivpal never mentioned any alliance. But are we ready for seat adjustment at a later stage? Well, yes, if the offer comes from Mulayam.'' For the JD(U), a bit player in Uttar Pradesh politics, a ''grand alliance'' gains buoyancy under the leadership of young Akhilesh, not if the SP splits.

In the past, Mulayam has ditched his friends too many times, most recently during the Bihar elections, to be a trusted as an ally. A weary Nitish would, therefore, rather attend his Chhat puja than air-dash for the SP jubilee. For the SP, such an alliance makes sense if there's seat-sharing with the RLD chief Ajit Singh and only for western UP. As for the Congress, the local UP leaders are ready for an alliance, without which the going may be too tough for them. Since the BSP never goes for pre-poll tie-ups, the SP is their only hope.