Amar: SP declines to join cabinet

The Samajwadi Party (SP) declined the offer to join the Union cabinet on Saturday. This comes amidst suggestions of serious complications between the Congress and the SP over seat sharing in UP. Emerging from the Congress-SP coordination committee meeting, SP general secretary Amar Singh said his party had "politely declined" the offer to join the union cabinet.

Reason: its "deep and serious engagements" in bracing for the fight against the "casteist and communal forces" in UP. "We thanked both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the offer to join the cabinet, but it is not possible for us to accept it at this juncture in view of the electoral challenges in UP," Amar Singh said. He said that general policy issues including the special economic zones (SEZ) question were discussed.

He reiterated his party's commitment to support the UPA. Leaders of both parties are evidently preparing to bargain hard for seats. At one level, both Congress and SP have a vested interest in putting up a united show - to fight the common political adversary in BSP's Mayawati.

However, the specifics of seat-sharing might prove to be complicated and difficult. SP leaders are stated to be unwilling to concede more than 15 seats for the Congress, while the Congress is not willing to settle for anything less than "friendly fights" in 40 seats.

In the Congress camp, a section also holds the strong view that the costs of the partnership with SP were far in excess of the benefits. This section feels the Congress should contest all 80 parliamentary seats on its own.

Besides the Prime Minister and the UPA chairperson, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defense Minister AK Antony represented the Congress at the coordination committee meeting - besides SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh.