In the 2009 general election, the Congress hit the bullseye in Uttar Pradesh that had surprised them more than their opponents.
Its tally of 21 seats and 18% vote share was the highest in two decades since its fall began in 1989.
Though many, such as Prof Chitranjan Mishra of Gorakhpur, believe: “The election was won by some Congress personalities because of their personal votes.” Black cat commando Kamal Kishore, whose only claim to fame was his closeness to the Gandhi family, was also a winner.
After all, some of these big names had lost the 2005 polls. So what changed the Congress fortunes in the state in 2009?
The Congress then carried out a quick analysis. Later senior party leader RPN Singh credited then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s loan waiver scheme and NREGA for the Congress resurgence. Senior party leader Bhola Pandey adds the Rajiv Gandhi rural electrification scheme to the list.
The Congress, however, changed the poll trajectory and joined the caste bandwagon in 2012 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls and suffered humiliating defeats.
Now, taking a leaf out from the 2009 general election, the Congress’ focus is back on farmers. Strategically, it suits the Congress as rebuilding the caste coalitions, which formed the stable foundation for the party till regional power took them away, has so far proved to be a herculean task.
And while the rivals are mocking its ‘khat sabhas’ (that made bigger news than the launch of 2500-km kisan yatra), the Congress is moving ahead with its eyes set on the 2019 general election. The upcoming assembly polls are just bell ringer.
“We know voters have generally preferred regional parties in assembly elections. We are gearing up for the 2019 polls,” a senior party leader says.
Party leader Bhola Pandey admits that they need to win 100 seats in the upcoming polls to prove their relevance in 2019 poll arena.
Apparently the party’s only aspiration, as of now, is to share power in a coalition government in UP.
Pollsters have been predicting a hung house and the Congress figures in two of the three post-poll combinations in discussion -- BSP-BJP, BSP-Cong, SP-Cong -- provided they jointly have enough seats to reach the magic figure of 203.
Loan waiver formula: Is it still potent
Prof Manoj Dixit of Lucknow University had done a study after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to know the impact of the UPA’s loan waiver scheme. Describing it as bad economics, he said the beneficiaries were 20% defaulters. It can prove counter-productive.
However, Prof Mishra of Gorakhpur says some upper caste small farmers may get influenced by the loan waiver promise. The Congress has this time added relief in power dues that may deliver them some votes.
Political scientist from Deoria Aruresh is, however, not amused. He says: “Khat pe charcha has been organised by the same event manager who had worked for Narendra Modi’s 2014 mega show. On its first day first show, people got 1500 cots. I doubt if Congress will get equal number of votes.”
According to him, loan waiver is not as big an issue in UP as it is in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
“The Congress remained in power at the centre till 2014, made many promises to farmers, especially in drought affected Bundelkhand. Nothing really happened,” said a Congress leader who feels no party can encash one issue twice, even if it is as important as loan waiver.
Govardhan Gaur, who runs Bhumi Bachchao Sangarsh Samiti in eastern UP, had met Rahul Gandhi recently. He says: “Instead of loan waiver promise, they should help the farmers get back their acquired land.”
While the party is getting 2 crore signatures on the forms they are circulating, Rahul has been hitting hard at Prime Minister Modi for waiving off industrialists’ loans up to Rs 1.4 crores while ignoring poor farmers.
“It was the UPA government that had written off farm loan of Rs 70,000 crore,” he reminds the farmers.
The Opposition too has been quick to call it a big farce as the Congress is not in power at the Centre, nor is it seen as a party coming to power in the state.
Prof Chitranjan Mishra and others say the fight is triangular between the BJP, BSP and the SP, and the Congress has yet to join the race.
But the Congress wants to remember the 2009 renaissance instead of 2012 and 2014 waterloo.