Congress president Sonia Gandhi is likely to visit the Ardh Kumbh at Allahabad and take a dip in the Sangam. “She is contemplating going there,” well-placed sources said. But for the sake of caution, they added, a final decision remains to be taken.
Coming ahead of the elections to the 403-member assembly in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia’s proposed visit to the Ardh Kumbh is expected to help the Congress prevent the BJP from exploiting the Hindu sentiment in the backdrop of the UPA government’s plan to push for affirmative action for Muslims. At the same time, it is expected to help the Congress make its own approach all-embracing.
Given the state’s fractured polity and segmented votebanks, even Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav — who depends on the support of the backward classes and Muslims – chose to take a dip in the Ganga on Saturday to signal that he was not against the upper castes. Similarly, BSP leader Mayawati has also been scouting for support outside her Dalit base.
No date has so far been given about Sonia’s likely visit to Allahabad which, it is learnt, is slotted for any time between January 14 and 25.
Speculation about the trip has been in the air since November 3, 2006 when Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot and Salman Khurshid wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They had complained that the Mulayam government had “not shown sufficient preparedness for the mega religious event, specially in the area of providing foodgrains and rations to devotees at reasonable rates”.
There is no indication whether Rahul Gandhi will accompany Sonia. The Congress president had attended the Kumbh Mela in 2001. Her visit at that time, had coincided with the high-voltage campaign against her foreign origin ahead of the assembly election in the state, where her party has a negligible presence.
Out of power in UP for two decades, the Congress has been struggling to revive itself in the state which contributes 80 seats to the Lok Sabha. The party’s traditional upper caste-Dalit-Muslim supporters have over the years migrated to the BJP, BSP and Samajwadi Party, leaving the Congress without a support-base to call its own. With just 16 legislators in the assembly, the party is now desperately looking for a turnaround.