"Whether it is the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party, both will need the Congress's helping hand," says a Cabinet minister.
The temptation to don the mantle of kingmaker is great for the Congress, but the party is divided as to what move it should take after the election results are out.
One group says the Congress is ready to do business with any other party that comes to power in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The other says the party should sit in the Opposition and allow President's Rule to be imposed in Uttar Pradesh.
Both groups, however, asserted it would still be the party which voters in Punjab and in Goa would opt for to run the governments.
Top sources in the Congress said its position was unique: It had the control of central resources and no party that comes to power in UP would be able to do without these.
"Whether it is the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party, both will need the Congress's helping hand," said a Cabinet minister.
The Congress also asserted it would be the single largest party in UP and in a position to form a government on its own.
However, several Congress leaders conceded that while Rahul Gandhi might not be able to deliver the seats to enable a Congress government, "we are in the game because of him."
Law Minister Salman Khurshid, an MP from Farrukhabad who courted controversy with his minority quota talk, told Business Standard the greatest benefit from these elections was that "the Congress was now being taken as a serious player in UP. We are now in the game; prior to this, we were not even in the reckoning."
Asked whether the Congress would align itself with SP or BSP to form the government, Khurshid said such a decision would be taken by the "party high command."
Media in-charge and AICC member Janardhan Dwivedi said, "So far, we have maintained that if we don't get a majority, we will sit in the Opposition; let us wait for the results tomorrow."
Dismissing Kurmi stalwart and Cabinet minister Beni Prasad Verma's remark that for the Congress, the BSP was a better ally than the SP, he termed it an "individual's personal viewpoint."
Verma, a former SP man, had fallen out with 'Netaji' Mulayam Singh Yadav.
That the Congress would be a factor in the UP power equation was strengthened by BJP leader Rajnath Singh's candid statement that his party would not be able to get the numbers to form a government on its own and it would opt to sit in the Opposition.
While the BJP was set to improve its tally in the 403-member assembly, it would fall short of coming to power, Singh had said. "The results will be bright for the BJP and there is no doubt about it. We have fought to get a majority. But, yes, candidly speaking, it appears to me that we might fall short of the numbers required to form the government," he said.
Singh admitted that getting Babusingh Kushwaha into the party had not been a wise decision. In this matter, Singh was the first to openly criticise the decision taken by party chief Nitin Gadkari.
In Lucknow, Chief Minister Mayawati has sent a message to party leaders to assemble in Lucknow on Tuesday morning.
Both the Congress and BJP were in negotiations with the BSP through unnamed sources. on Tuesday night, Mayawati also asked Governor B L Joshi to dissolve the assembly only after March 6, when the results would be out. The logic was that so long as she was still in saddle, a fractured mandate on March 6 would enable her to stay on as chief minister.
Meanwhile, the UP bureaucracy was getting ready for a reshuffle. Those identified with Mayawati -- like state Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh, and her secretary, Chandra Bhanu -- were getting ready to leave the state for postings at the Centre.
Buoyed by the exit poll results, several bureaucrats considered close to Mulayam Singh Yadav were preparing to come in from 'cold storage.'
In Punjab, there was a view that neither formation -- the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combination -- would get a clear mandate, despite predictions of a dismal election result for the BJP that might drag the Akali Dal down.
Both sets of parties were keeping their doors open for Manpreet Badal's Punjab People's Party. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal claimed the results would go in favour of the SAD-BJP alliance.
on Monday evening, Badal said, "The Akali Dal will create history in Punjab by coming to power for the second consecutive term." On poll forecast reports of the BJP's drastic downfall, he said the results would be different.
Confident of a win and predicting at least 70 seats for the Congress, state party head Captain Amarinder Singh said he was hopeful of forming a government. He added the Congress could win 41 of the 68 seats in the Malwa region and 16 seats each in the Majha and Doaba regions.
The United Progressive Alliance believes a slew of important policy decisions, including foreign direct investment in retail, would get the required backing once the results of the elections in five states come in the party's favour.
When reminded that the Samajwadi Party's manifesto had promised to oppose FDI in retail, a Congress minister retorted that the SP had opposed the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement as well, but ultimately it was because of the SP that prevented the collapse of the government on this issue in UPA-I, after the Left parties withdrew support.