Sonia’s Varanasi road show gives Congress head start in UP campaign | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Sonia’s Varanasi road show gives Congress head start in UP campaign

An impressive road show by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi on Tuesday despite ill health has given a head start to the party’s campaign for next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2016 13:29 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi gestures during a road show ahead of UP assembly elections, in Varanasi.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi gestures during a road show ahead of UP assembly elections, in Varanasi.(PTI Photo)

An impressive road show by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi on Tuesday despite ill health has given a head start to the party’s campaign for next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The decision to launch the campaign from Varanasi was a strategic one. The Congress wanted to send a message that it is no longer a marginal player in the state and is ready to take on the BJP with a show of strength in Modi’s bastion.

Apart from lifting the morale of party workers, Gandhi’s show was also aimed at consolidating the traditional Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit vote bank of the Congress. Varanasi comprises 15% Muslims, 17% Dalits, 15% Brahmins, 10% Yadavs and others constitute the remaining 43%.

Congress managers were keen to show that the party organisation does exist on the ground in UP despite repeated poor show in the past elections. Out of the total 403 seats, the Congress had won just 28 in the 2012 assembly elections.

Organisational weaknesses had often been blamed for the Congress’ poor show in Uttar Pradesh where the party is desperately seeking a revival of its political fortunes after being thrown out of power in 1989. Veteran leader ND Tiwari was the last Congress CM in UP.

Varanasi found itself in the spotlight in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when Modi decided to contest from the city. He was challenged by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) strongman Arvind Kejriwal while the Congress had fielded Bhumihar leader Ajay Rai.

Modi won the elections with a huge margin defeating Kejriwal by more than 3.7 lakh votes polling 5,81,022 (56.37%) votes. Kejriwal bagged 2,09,238 (20.30%) and Rai came a distant third with 75,614 (7.34%).

Muslims, who constitute about 3.5 lakh of the total 15 lakh electorate, had then overwhelmingly voted for Kejriwal. Barring 2004 when the Congress won the seat, Varanasi has been a BJP stronghold since 1991. In the 2009 elections, the Muslims had voted for BSP candidate Mukhtar Ansari, giving a scare to BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, who won by a narrow margin of 17,000 votes.

Ahead of the 2014 polls, the Congress had put Varanasi in the list of 16 constituencies where it planned to hold US-style primaries to ensure that the grassroots workers have a say in the selection of party candidates. However, it was subsequently taken off from the list after Modi decided to contest from the seat.

On Tuesday, Muslims had come out in large numbers to make Gandhi’s road show a success. She also sent a message to Dalits by garlanding the statue of BR Ambedkar at the start of the road show. She was to end her road show by garlanding the statue of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kamlapati Tripathi, but she fell ill before that.

Later in a statement, the Congress chief attacked the Modi government accusing it of being pro-industrialists and pro-rich and ignoring the poor, backward classes and minorities.

With the successful road show, the Congress hopes that it will once again emerge as a key player in the country’s most populous state. That is still a tall order and much depends on the party’s ability to sustain this political tempo for the rest of the campaign till assembly elections in February-March next year.