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Cong recovery an uphill task in UP

NOTWITHSTANDING THE hype over Sonia Gandhi?s stunning victory from Rae Bareli, the recovery of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh may prove to be an uphill task. Though buoyancy prevails in the party over its rejuvenation prospects after Rahul Gandhi agreed to play a bigger role in the country?s politics, the high command knows that there are several political snags to pull the Congress down in the State. And it is less a question of ?who is at the helm of affairs? but more to do with the ?image of the party? that has taken a severe beating over the years.

india Updated: May 17, 2006 01:32 IST

NOTWITHSTANDING THE hype over Sonia Gandhi’s stunning victory from Rae Bareli, the recovery of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh may prove to be an uphill task.

Though buoyancy prevails in the party over its rejuvenation prospects after Rahul Gandhi agreed to play a bigger role in the country’s politics, the high command knows that there are several political snags to pull the Congress down in the State. And it is less a question of ‘who is at the helm of affairs’ but more to do with the ‘image of the party’ that has taken a severe beating over the years.

Thus, the first challenge before the Congress is to change its public perception from a ‘dying’ to a ‘lively’ party in a State where it has been a political non-entity since early 1990s. If this does not happen before Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav called for polls, it’s Mayawati’s BSP which will eventually take advantage of the prevailing anti-incumbency factor against the State Government. In public perception, neither of the two national parties – the Congress and the BJP – seem strong enough to be either the king or the kingmaker.

Despite the emotional bond with the Gandhis, even voters of Rae Bareli and Amethi will not hesitate in dumping the Congress in the forthcoming assembly polls if the party does not change its image. This is a proven fact. Both in Rae Bareli and Amethi Lok Sabha constituencies, the Congress could retain only one and two assembly segments respectively in the 2002 assembly polls. The rest went to either the BSP or the SP or even the BJP – the parties that ruled the state since its decline begin.

Otherwise also the Congress has to refurbish its image of a ‘poor fourth’ in the rank, if it has to rebuild its traditional vote bank of Muslims, Brahmins and Dalits. Both Muslims and Brahmins are in political wilderness after their disenchantment with the SP and the BJP respectively. The time is ripe for the Congress to win them back. But neither of the two castes would like to sail a sinking ship especially when they have an option in a more resurgent the BSP.

Thus, it is not without a reason that Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav decided to snap 24-hour power supply to Rae Bareli a day after the election results were announced. His message is clear that what the state government can give, Sonia cannot; so don’t repeat the mistake in the forthcoming assembly polls. The voters too are no less intelligent. They had candidly told media persons recently that they would be forced to support the winning horse or the party in the assembly elections, as they have to approach local officials for their day-to-day work. As of now, they do not put the Congress in the winning category.

Secondly, the Congress has to launch its revamp plan without any loss of time as it has a huge gap to fill in terms of vote percentage. Going by the 2002 results, the Congress stands at 8.35 per cent as against 21.8 per cent of the SP and 19.7 per cent of the BSP. Both Mulayam and Mayawati have taken a head start in the form of identifying their strong and weak seats besides distributing tickets. As for Mulayam, he has already started oiling the party machinery by holding statewide meetings and rallies. So far the Congress has yet to concretise its much talked about plan of concentrating all its resources on 100-odd constituencies instead of frittering it away on all the 402 constituencies.

What it needs is a huge bank of committed workers as today the party seems to have more leaders than workers. It may also face the crisis of winnable candidates.

Otherwise also, there is no one region of the state which can be considered as a stronghold of the Congress. The SP has its solid pockets in central UP while the BSP has created a niche for itself in the east, which was once ruled by the BJP.
Even in the recent past the Congress had failed to translate huge crowds that Sonia’s rallies drew into votes due to poor infrastructure of the party.

There is no denying of the fact that Rahul can actually do wonders in UP, a state which has traditionally got personal attention of the Gandhis.

But Uttar Pradesh is not Rae Bareli. In the absence of a wave and presence of two strong regional forces, the party’s revival will be a gigantic task. It’s high time the party got down to buisness as it is going to be Rahul’s first acid test.