The Congress will go into the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections with a "targeted approach" so that it is in a position to decide who will form the next government in the state.
But for that the party - which has only 16 legislators at present — needs to win at least 50 seats when elections take place in April for the Assembly whose terms expires on May 14. "Once we get more than 50 seats, it will spell the death-knell of the Samajwadi Party," said Salman Khurshid, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief. But to reach that target, the Congress has to break the caste wall and the SP, BSP and the BJP’s hold over the Muslim-Yadav, Dalits and upper caste votes respectively.
At the moment, the party finds itself in a quandary. While the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for a fair share for Muslims or the party’s condemnation of Saddam Hussein’s execution is expected to make the minority community react favourably towards the party, it also threatens to give a handle to the BJP to rally the Hindu voters by leveling the charge of muslim-appeasement against the Congress. "The politics of the world is beginning to influence the UP scenario," said a Congress leader.
Given the magnitude of the task, Congressmen in UP are hoping that the charisma of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi would help them tide over their problems. The two, according to Khurshid, will campaign in the state in the coming weeks. Rahul, in fact, has also been busy studying the constituency profiles and the list of possible candidates not just for the assembly polls but also for the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. "He is not afraid of a battering in UP," said a Congress leader, refuting reports that the Amethi MP may not lead the campaign in the state where the party’s prospects in the elections remains uncertain.
While the Election Commission has yet to announce the dates for the polls in UP, in the elections to the Punjab and Uttarachal assembly in February, the Congress’ campaign will be led by Chief Ministers Amarinder Singh and ND Tiwari respectively. In keeping with the party’s principle, the decision on the next CM will be left to the legislators if the party secures a mandate. The same applies to Manipur.
"As a CM, Tiwari will lead the campaign. But as part of the Congress’ set procedure, we do not project anyone as a CM candidate. That is decided after the polls by the newly elected MLAs in consultation with the High Command," said Motilal Vora, party treasurer who is also in charge of Uttaranchal. In both states, the faction ridden party has managed to close ranks for the polls.
The Congress will set up Steering Committee to vet the list of candidates sent by the Pradesh Congress Committees. These will then cleared by the Central Election Committee chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. There are 117 assembly seats in Punjab, 70 in Uttaranchal and 60 in Manipur.