#UP2017: Can Congress Put The Humiliation Of 2012 Behind? 

#UP2017: Can Congress Put The Humiliation Of 2012 Behind? Rahul Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The Congress faces an insurmountable cliff in the upcoming election. Over the decades, it has lost its support base - Dalits, Brahmins, Muslims - to the SP, BSP and BJP.

    The biggest disadvantage with the Congress is that for the last 27 years, it has been a fringe player in UP state politics. To attract voters now, it has to be seen as a strong contender capable of forming a government.

The Congress party in Uttar Pradesh (UP) showed signs of life after decades, when its newly appointed state President Raj Babbar and chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit arrived in Lucknow on Sunday, 17 July. They were welcomed with a rousing reception that sustained all the way through from the airport at Amausi to the party office in Mall Avenue.

A party whose state leaders remained mute all these years, and who were in awe of the Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, seemed to have found their voice on this occasion. The party office, which usually wears a deserted look, was chock-a-block with workers and leaders, many of them prospective candidates, who discussed strategy for the forthcoming elections in small groups.

The mood in the party office was gung-ho, as Dikshit and Babbar vowed to end the misrule of non-Congress governments that have ruled the state successively for 27 years; ND Tiwari was the last Congress Chief Minister in the state back in 1989.

The celebratory mood did mask some grim realities, like the plethora of corruption charges raised against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government helmed by the Congress at the Centre till 2014. The party is still in dire straits with the masses still out of its reach.

How will this newfound euphoria help convert the Congress party’s tally from 29 in the present UP assembly to a majority? Will the Congress even be in contention? Only Dikshit, who said that the Congress would form the next government in the state, would know better, besides, of course, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Prashant Kishore.

The reality is that the Congress faces an insurmountable cliff, and it lacks the wherewithal to climb it. Over the decades, its support base comprising Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims has crossed over to the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

There is also a leadership crisis within the party. Rahul Gandhi’s rise has actually created a leadership vacuum. The state bosses moved about cluelessly in the matter of where the party was headed until master strategist Prashant Kishore emerged on the scene. The clamour for Priyanka Vadra is proof that her brother, Rahul Gandhi, has been a failure as a leader in the state.

With the Bharatiya Janata Party pinning its hopes largely on Other Backward Classes (OBCs), upper castes and a section of the Dalits, and with Mulayam Singh relying on his time-tested formula, the fourth-placed party is planning ambitiously to upset their apple-carts without any particular vote bank apparently inclined to veer towards it.

Not to forget, the Congress also has to contend with Mayawati, who, despite desertion, enjoys the unflinching support of Jatavs, besides some Brahmins and Muslims.

The voter has the tendency of opting for a party which is in a position to form a government. Which caste or community is the Congress banking on to realise its dream of forming a government in the state? From where will it get those magical numbers when it is still untouchable for Muslims, Dalits and OBCs?

The biggest disadvantage with the Congress is that for the last 27 years, it has been a fringe player in UP state politics. To attract voters, it has to be seen as a strong contender capable of forming a government. A rickety party structure and 29 legislators don’t augur well for the Congress, which has also faced factionalism in the state unit. Perhaps, the reason why cine star-turned-politician and political turncoat Raj Babbar has been entrusted the job of running the state unit is that he does not belong to any group within the party.

Factionalism was also the reason why the party had to project the former Delhi Chief Minister as its chief ministerial face for UP. Naming any other Brahmin from among Pramod Tiwari, Rajesh Mishra and Rajesh Pati Tripathi as the chief ministerial face would have raised the hackles of those who would have been left out.

As the party struggles to put up a brave front, those who were ready with its epitaph may just have to wait for a bunny to pop out of Prashant Kishore’s hat. Though at this point in time, UP could well turn out to be his Waterloo.

Atul Chandra is former Resident Editor, The Times of India, Lucknow. He has written extensively on politics in Uttar Pradesh.

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