Priyanka Gandhi had recently described her brother and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi as "a visionary with a good understanding of politics… much better than he is given credit for".
Not many in the Congress had shared her sentiments then. But today, Priyanka stands vindicated as the Congress won 21 seats – more than double its 2004 tally of nine – and finished second in the seats tally in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the ruling BSP, which finished with 19 and the BJP (15), but behind the Samajwadi Party, which won 25 seats.Listen to podcast
The party is, thus, firmly on the comeback trail in UP, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, after two decades of political hibernation.
A large part of the credit for this must go to Rahul. He had overruled senior party leaders and decided to go it alone in the state when seat-sharing talks with the Samajwadi Party broke down over Mulayam Singh Yadav’s offered of leaving only 15 seats for the party. Then, his intensive campaigning across Uttar Pradesh has also paid off.
Crucially, he has made the Congress acceptable once more to Muslims, who had deserted the party after the Shilanyas in Ayodhya in 1989 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid two years later.
The upper castes and dalits, who, along with the Muslims, were once part of the Congress’s invincible support base in the state, have also begun returning to the party fold.
Then, the farm loan waiver scheme, which has benefited millions of farmers in rural UP, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which has become the source of livelihood for millions of rural poor, and the image of the Congress’s First Family and Rahul himself worked in the party’s favour.
AMU political scientist Arshi Khan said: “The Congress has got Muslim support because of the Sachar Committee and investigations over the Hindutva terror links.”
Of course, SP’s decision to align with Kalyan Singh, who was BJP chief minister of the state when the Babri Masjid was demolished, also nudged a large section of Muslims towards the Congress.
The party also seems to have found favour with a section of UP’s 20 per cent upper castes. “My political understanding is that the Congress will do better this time,” said Mukul Pathak, a Brahmin teacher from Rampur had predicted presciently at the end of the fourth phase of polling.
Sudha Pai, political scientist at JNU, added: “The Congress has surely revived in UP, though the upper castes are still split between Congress and BJP.”
Significantly, the Congress revival is spread evenly across the state except in western UP, where the party failed to spring any surprises.
Meanwhile, the ruling BSP failed to hold on to the ground it had gained in the 2007 Assembly elections. It won 21 seats, two more than its 2004 tally, but far below its expectation of 40-50 seats.
The results indicate that the anti-incumbency factor has affected Mayawati’s popularity. They also show that the party’s so-called “social engineering” formula – of welding a social coalition of Dalits and upper castes – that propelled her to power in 2007 has stopped paying dividends.
The Samajwadi Party, which is expected to end up as the single largest party in UP, too, has seen its tally fall from 35 to 23. But it may still end up as a winner as the UPA still needs some additional numbers to take it past the half-way mark. And the Congress views Mulayam as a more reliable ally than Mayawati.
The elections have proved to be a disaster for the BJP. Its alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal did not yield the expected results, and the alliance has notched up a tally of only 15 seats.