Meerut (Uttar Pradesh):  Once rivals, now allies. The tie-up between the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal is being played up in this Uttar Pradesh town with posters of the two scions, Rahul Gandhi and Ajit Singh, dotting every corner of the Ramlila Grounds, the venue of the joint rally on Thursday.

This will be their first bid to jointly woo voters ahead of the elections in the state that begin Feb 8 though this western Uttar Pradesh area goes to the polls Feb 28.

Ironically, several banners and boards also feature Rahul Gandhi's grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Ajit Singh's father Charan Singh, also a former prime minister. Both were bitter rivals, particularly during the Emergency.

But the times have changed.

“Politics changes over the time. Old rivalries also change,” said Feroze Khan, a Congress worker, explaining that 'the alliance of Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by Ajit Singh was the need of the hour'.

The RLD and Congress entered into an electoral alliance in December last, paving way for the entry of Ajit Singh in the union cabinet and the inclusion of the RLD in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Sunil Tyagi, a Congress activist, said the new alliance would help the Congress-RLD alliance win most of the seven seats in Meerut district, the centre of politics in western Uttar Pradesh.

Currently, both the parties have no seats in the district. In the 2007 assembly polls, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won five seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had an alliance with the RLD, won two seats.

Ram Prakash, a BSP activist, said the BSP was still a force. 'The support base of Behenji (BSP Leader Mayawati) is still intact and the polls will prove it again.'

However, Abdul Salam, a school teacher said it was too premature for predictions.

“Meerut has a great political history, including the first struggle for independence in 1857 (when Indian soldiers rebelled against British officers). People here take independent decisions,” Salam added.

Sniffer dogs and metal detectors were being used to check the sprawling stadium in the city, 60 km from Delhi. 'We cannot leave anything to chance. This is a sensitive town,' a police officer said.

‘Rise, awaken and change Uttar Pradesh’ is Rahul's message (Utho, Jaago, Badalo Uttar Pradesh - Rahul ka sandesh) is the slogan carried on most of the banners.

Though the rally venue is decorated with banners and flags, there were no posters on city walls and public places. A resident said this was because of restrictions imposed by the Election Commission.