The Congress, looking to regain lost ground in Uttar Pradesh, has come up with a smart poll move in the largely rural state that goes to the polls early next year.
Relegated to the margins in the country’s most populous state, the Congress is going all out to win support among the farmers, arguably the biggest bloc of voters in the state.
And, its latest campaign addresses their biggest problem – loans.
The party has come with a Kisan Maang Patra (a list of farmers’ demands – loan waiver, cheap power and higher price for produce), which after being dismissed as yet another futile exercise seems to be gaining ground and even pegged as a “game-changer”.
Backed by the poll slogan Karja Maaf, Bijli Bill Half, Samarthan Mulya Ka Karo Hisab (writing off loans, power bills cut to half and renogiated minimum support price), the Congress is confident of the campaign striking a chord.
“We are not expecting miracles, but if we can break the 50-barrier in Uttar Pradesh, the perception about Congress will change in the entire country from a dying to a reviving party,” a party leader said.
The Congress since 1990s has not even come close to 50 seats in the 404-member state assembly (one of the seats in nominated).
Former union health minister RPN Singh says the patra is catching the imagination of the farming community. “Farmers trust us on our poll promise because we have a proven record,” he adds.
The Congress-led UPA government waived off farm loans ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha election that it went on to win.
From party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is on a month-long kisan yatra, to chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit, party leaders are spreading the word about the UPA’s loan-waiver scheme.
The party’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor, or PK as he is known, who has come up with the campaign, has sent the attractive form to every district office.
It comes with three promises and as many pictures — of party president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Dikshit — on one side of the leaf.
On the other is the pledge: “Kisano ki karza maafi, krishi, bijli dar ko aadha karane, aur faslon ke behtar samarthan mulya dilane ke Congress party ke is abhiyan ko mera samarthan hai (I support the Congress campaign to waive off farmer loans, slash the power tariff by half and higher support price for crops.)”
A farmer has to fill in his name, address, phone number and the loan amount. For every form submitted, a call is made to a designated call centre and a receipt handed out to the farmer. Kishor is monitoring the progress.
How is the scheme helping
1) The Congress has set a target of 20 million signed forms in the state where it barely polled 88 lakh votes in 2012 assembly election. The winning Samajwadi Party got 22 million votes.
2) The campaign mobilises farmers cutting across caste lines in the state where caste a big factor .
3) The cadre and aspiring candidates have been propelled into action as district units vie with each other to submit maximum forms.
4) The last date for submission is September 30 and party members want to be seen as doing their bit for Rahul’s farmer outreach.
The campaign would help the party increase its vote share and see strong candidates pass the winning line, a Congress leader said. Those looking to contest are hoping applicants will turn into voters.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav once said voters sometimes get misled or influenced by lucrative poll promises. “The upcoming elections in the state are for the assembly not the Lok Sabha,” he said. “Who will tell the innocent farmer that the state government cannot write off bank loans?”
Congress leader Ajay Rai, who is from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, says the party is “clearly telling” farmers that the Congress will write off cooperative bank loans.
“Other loans of the banks will be waived off after the 2019 general election,” he says.
If the campaign pays off, the party can showcase it ahead of the 2019 national elections.
Kushinagar, the home district of RPN Singh, has taken the lead and may turn in more than 200,000 forms.
When asked why Varanasi was behind, Rai says, “Varanasi will try top the list as it is the Prime Minister’s constituency. He must face the heat here.”
Mohd Akhtar, who is from Jaunpur, says the form is being talked about. Farmers ask each other if they have filled the form. “Now they are demanding the forms. This explains the success of the campaign,” he says.