The beleaguered United Progressive Alliance got a boost on Saturday with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, led by Ajit Singh, deciding to join the coalition at the Centre and fight the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in alliance with the Congress.
Ajit Singh, whose RLD has five members in the Lok Sabha, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday evening and expressed his willingness to join UPA. His decision was welcomed by the Congress president, said senior Congress leader Mohan Prakash, who was present at the meeting.
Ajit Singh, 72, will soon meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid possibilities that he could join the Cabinet, with Prakash saying that like every partner in the UPA, RLD will also get its share in power.
Prakash hailed RLD's decision to join the UPA and fight the UP assembly elections under the Congress as a "game changer."
"It will be a game changer in UP elections," he said.
He also indicated that former Union minister and Samajwadi Party leader Rashid Masood, and other senior leaders, will be joining the Congress soon.
There is speculation that Singh will get 45 seats with seat sharing adjustments likely to be announced by next week.
RLD is the first party to join UPA after the 2009 general elections.
The alliance talks between the two parties have been going on for quite some time. Earlier this week, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had expressed hope that the alliance would be formed soon.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and Ajit Singh have held meetings to discuss the seat-sharing, according to sources.
The talks between the two parties had run into rough weather some time ago reportedly due to Ajit Singh's demand for a berth in the Union Cabinet.
Congress had come fourth with 21 seats in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.
Bharatiya Janata Party, which has 98 MLAs in the present assembly, has already announced it will not go for any pre or post-poll alliance in the state.
Some recent poll surveys have put Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party among the front-runners, while BJP stands at the third place, way behind these two parties.
The scenario is likely to change with the Congress-RLD joining hands as the two parties can bank on Jat, Muslim and upper caste votes.
Ajit Singh had earlier said that the Congress and the RLD should join hands as this was the only way to defeat Mayawati-led BSP.
Later, All India Congress Committee general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said that the Congress president has agreed "in-principle" to Ajit Singh's request.