Congress falls back on yatra campaign in poll-bound UP

  • Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 19, 2016 14:16 IST
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is handling the party’s campaign plan for the 2017 assembly elections. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

The Congress, it seems, is once again relying on the “tried, trusted and failed” yatra politics to recapture Uttar Pradesh in the next year’s assembly elections. The party is planning an exhaustive campaign yatra that will take two groups of leaders to 66 districts in 50 days from Sunday.

With poll strategist Prashant Kishor handling the party’s campaign plan for the 2017 assembly elections, Congress leaders from the country’s most populous state were hoping him to “bring fresh ideas” to the table this time and “avoid failed strategies” of the past.

“We thought there will be out-of-the-box ideas this time, but it is like selling old wine in even older bottles,” said a UP Congress leader who refused to be named.

The state has 403 assembly constituencies (besides one member nominated by the governor) across its 75 districts.

Though the yatra politics is yet to provide electoral benefits to the Congress, party strategists involved in the poll campaign claim such programmes help create a buzz about the party that is struggling to revive its political fortunes in Uttar Pradesh after being ousted from power in 1989.

In 2002, the party organised parivartan yatras (marches for change) from six parts of the state: Deoband, Lalitpur, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Ballia, Varanasi and Deoria. Senior leaders, including Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Ajit Jogi, Subodh Kant Sahay, Choudhary Birender Singh and Mukul Wasnik, were given the charge of different zones.

The yatras were much hyped, but they failed to moblise the masses into the party’s favour and translate them into votes. The Congress ended up with 25 seats that time. While Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad was then the general secretary in charge of UP, Sri Prakash Jaiswal headed the state unit.

Again, in a year ahead of the 2007 assembly elections, Congress state chief Salman Khurshid launched a Jan Vishwas Yatra. That, too, failed to help the party reap electoral dividend. Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was then the party general secretary in charge of UP. The Congress bagged 22 out of 403 seats.

Rahul Gandhi led the party’s 2012 poll campaign from the front, addressing 211 public meetings across the state in just 45 days. The Congress failed to cash in on the Nehru-Gandhi family scion’s high-voltage campaign; the party won just 28 seats.

Gandhi had then kicked off his campaign with a Kisan Sandesh Yatra from Bhatta and Parsaul villages in Greater Noida. While Digvijaya Singh was then the general secretary, Rita Bahuguna Joshi headed the state unit.

The failure to translate the crowd into votes has often been blamed on the weak organisational strength in the politically important state. This time too, Azad, who again holds the charge of general secretary, claimed impressive crowd response to the first phase of campaigning. It started with a three-day bus yatra from Delhi to Kanpur on July 23, followed by a workers meeting at Lucknow on July 29 and a road show by party chief Sonia Gandhi in Varanasi on August 2.

“It is difficult to maintain the momentum till the end,” another leader said.

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