The Congress performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections surprised the party more than its opponents.
Although it triggered the hope of a Congress revival after two decades of dreary existence, five years later, party bigwigs have been found hoping for a miracle in the face of the huge anti-incumbency wave.
The party hopes that its state bigwigs, despite the Modi wave, will be able to keep the party afloat in at least half the 22 constituencies – including the Gandhi bastions of Rae Bareli and Amethi – it won in 2009.
Seven Union ministers are fighting lonely battles this time. What’s more, the politics of polarisation has pushed the Samajwadi Party several notches ahead of the Congress and the BSP.
In 2009, the Congress managed to take advantage of the Muslim anger over the strange friendship between SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Babri-tainted former BJP leader Kalyan Singh.
A random check on the status of the sitting MPs, however, show that the Congress can’t be written off in Kanpur (SP Jaiswal), Pratapgarh (Ratna Singh), Dharaura (Jitin Prasada), Kushi Nagar (RPN Singh), Farrukhabad (Salman Khurshid), Barabanki (PL Punia) and Unnao (Anu Tandon).
The reason is not the popularity of the MPs, but some canny manipulations of caste combinations, political courtesies and, to some extent, the BJP’s miscalculations in ticket distribution.
For instance, Salman Khurshid had won from Farrukhabad by a slender margin of 27,000 votes in 2009. But the BJP’s decision to field a Lodh candidate, Mukesh Rajput, has made it easy for Khurshid this time, as the area is known for old Brahmin-Lodh enmity.
Young minister Jitin Prasada in Dharaura, is locked in a tough battle with the BJP as the youth is moving towards BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi. But he is among the few Congress leaders who may scrape through.
In Pratapgarh, Ratna Singh also may sail through as the BJP has given the seat to its ally, Apna Dal, which has a solid Kurmi vote-bank. But the BJP’s upper caste supporters are so upset that they may eventually vote for Ratna Singh.
Similarly in Kanpur, Union minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who till the other day was a losing candidate, is suddenly back in the reckoning as his rival Murli Manohar Joshi is facing sabotage. But the recent communal clashes over a religious procession can bail out Joshi.
Observers, however, are not ruling out Jaiswal’s return to Parliament for the fourth term, as the Brahmin-dominated constituency has an equally strong Muslim vote-base.
Far away in Kushi Nagar, Union minister RPN Singh has not yet started his campaign. Ensconced comfortably in his constituency, he is known to have helped people throughout his five-year term.
Anu Tandon in neighbouring Unnao does the same. She personally services her supporters. PL Punia also in Barabanki is known for personal rapport with his voters.
The Congress looks floundering, but it definitely is not sinking.