From being the dominant party in UP for over four decades, the Congress now has to ride on a cycle to come back to power in the state.
It has settled for one-fourths of the overall seat, and has accepted chief minister Akhilesh Yadav as the common face of the alliance.
How did a party move from being the dominant force with inherent disdain for alliances to becoming a junior coalition partner?
On September 27, 1989 the then Union home minister Buta Singh flew into Lucknow when the sun had not yet risen. He immediately drove to the official bungalow of chief minister ND Tiwari.
Soon a delegation of saffron clad saints associated with Rama Janma Bhoomi Nyas led by Ashok Singhal was ushered in.
Buta Singh later announced the Centre’s conditional permission to the Nyas to lay shilanayas at the contentious Ram Janma Bhoomi /Babri Mosque complex.
On November 10, 1989, the VHP-BJP laid the foundation stone of the temple amid pomp at a plot, away from the disputed site.
It was poll time. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to launch his party’s campaign from Faizabad and spoke about ‘Ram Rajya.’
From there started the long chapter of Congress decline in North India; it lost support of the Muslims in northern belt as they held the party leadership squarely responsible for unlocking of the shrine gates in 1984 and shilanyas in 1989. The final nail in the coffin was when the mosque was demolished under the Congress government led by Narasimha Rao. The Muslims shifted to the Samajwadi Party.
It is thus ironical that the primary motive of the Congress-SP alliance, sealed on Sunday evening, is to signal to the Muslims that this is the best ‘secular alternative’ to the BJP.
The continued decline
Why has the Congress been unable to regain power in UP?
The first reason is the rise of regional parties – the BSP and the SP – that pursued caste and communal politics. While the SP was able to project itself as a champion of Muslims, the BSP wooed Dalits and marginalised castes. The Congress leadership, in its bid to maintain caste and communal balance, could not speak their aggressive language.
Second, after the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the party literally became rudderless. Sonia Gandhi remained elusive and indecisive on joining politics while PV Narasimha Rao and Sita Ram Kesari ran the show. The people of the state could not connect to them and there was no state leadership that could fill in the vacuum.
By the time Sonia entered the scene in 1997, politics had become competitive, the Congress cadres had moved to greener pastures and the elections had turned four-cornered.
Formulas were evolved to reconstruct the traditional vote bank of Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins. Muslims voted for the winning horse against the BJP (Congress was a sinking ship), Dalits for Mayawati and Kanshi Ram while Brahmins preferred to remain on the right side of the power.
In the process, a generation born in early 1990’s did not see a Congress rule in the state. It also failed to find poll partners, barring 1995 when it had tied up with the BSP. Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi also preferred an independent poll trek as he did not find either the SP or the BSP trustworthy. He thought this was also the best way to revive the organisation.
The search for an ally
After 20 years, the Congress finally opened itself to an alliance with either of the regional forces in UP, for coming back to power and stopping BJP was the immediate priority.
While Mayawati was against pre-poll tie-ups, the Yadav family was divided over seat sharing with the Congress. Mulayam’s politics was staunchly anti-Congress, but his son Akhilesh was more pragmatic. Negotiations between the next generation of both parties – Rahul and Priyanka in Congress, Akhilesh in SP – sealed the deal.
It is generally believed that the SP and the Congress together will be a formidable force that Muslims will immediately adopt. Agra-based political analyst KS Rama says, “The base vote of Congress is scattered. They need to rebuild the party brick by brick. Coalition with SP will be useful.”
This may now well be the Congress’ only route back to power.