New Delhi: With presidential elections only weeks away and the Lok Sabha battle set for 2014, the Congress has clearly embarked on a path to woo Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Political pundits IANS spoke to said this was clear the way Mulayam Singh was given prominence at the dinner Tuesday to mark the third anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government.
The Congress, they said, is keen to increase the leeway to take tough economic decisions that would need legislative support in parliament it is now not sure of.
The Congress also needs the numbers for the upcoming presidential polls and keep its options wide open for the 2014 general elections.
At Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s residence Tuesday night, Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi sat with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad at the dinner table.
The message was not lost on anyone.
Political analyst Aswini K. Ray said the Congress believes that Mulayam Singh`s backing will "relieve the UPA from the stranglehold of the Trinamool Congress".
"It seems the alliance (between SP and Congress) is coming earlier than thought... The immediate context is the presidential election but it could pave way for a larger alliance," Ray told IANS.
Ray, a former political science professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University here, said the cosying up was not totally unpredictable.
Nisar-ul-Haq, Head of the political science department of Jamia Millia University, said there was even a possibility of the SP joining the Congress-led UPA government.
He said the Congress would require the Samajwadi Party`s support in 2014 when the Lok Sabha battle takes place.
Haq too felt that Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee was making things difficult for the central government and the Congress would be looking for ways to reduced its dependence on her.
N. Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media Studies told IANS: "Both (Congress and SP) are looking at advantages. There is nothing unusual about it."
He said that for now the Congress would want the SP for the July presidential polls. But it would like to have Mulayam Yadav on its side for the next two years.
Although an ally, Banerjee has been acting more like an opposition leader, repeatedly spiking the government`s policy programmes.
Subrata Mukherjee, a former professor at Delhi University, however, described the biggest talking point at the UPA-II dinner as symbolism.
"SP is already supporting UPA from outside," he said.
He said there cannot be an alliance between the Congress and SP in 2014 and ad¬ded that if two parties did come together, it will be "on Mulayam`s terms".
The Congress, Mukherjee warned, cannot afford to lose Banerjee as West Bengal accounts for 42 precious Lok Sabha seats. He said: "UPA has to live with Mamata."