After a slew of central projects and schemes tailored to please receptive constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is gearing up for the challenging task of translating the sops into votes that the party hopes will enable them to bounce back on the state's political map.
The UPA government has been on overdrive to help the Congress raise its electoral tally from 22 seats in a 403-seat Uttar Pradesh assembly. The move began as early as 2009 when the Rs3,605-crore Bundelkhand package was announced and ended with last week’s 4.5% sub-quota for backward Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions, a few days before the Election Commission declared poll dates in UP and four other states.
The 18% Muslim population in the state has emerged as a prime target community for the party, which did surprisingly well in UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, partly due to tactical Muslim support. Besides, about 3 lakh weavers — many of them Muslims from eastern UP — and 15,000 cooperative societies will benefit from a Rs3,884-crore package for the handloom sector.
“The weavers’ package also targets extremely backward Hindus who are weavers around Bhadohi. Rahul Gandhi also held the first-ever extremely backwards castes’ rally in Kanpur,” says Badri Narayan, an expert on UP caste politics.
With 80 seats in Parliament, UP can tip the scales in favour of the Congress in 2014 if the party revives there. For, arch-rival BJP’s geographical spread -- largely limited to northern, central and western India - is smaller than the Congress’s, and the saffron party has little chance if it fails to beat the Congress in these regions.
The Centre has offered other sops too: plans to set up the Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University at Fursatganj in Rae Bareli and steel units at Barabanki, Lakhimpur Kheri, Jhansi, Hardoi and Mirzapur.
The Centre has also approved two Rs3,124-crore irrigation projects benefiting 24 districts, including Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli. The idea: make political inroads into the farming community throughout UP, and garner the Jat support - which the Congress never had in UP - in western UP through the Ajit Singh-led RLD.
“These will certainly benefit the people and the party,” said Sriprakash Jaiswal, union coal minister and chairman of the party’s UP campaign committee.
The Congress has also been trying to build a farmers’ constituency, with leader Rahul Gandhi undertaking a padayatra in western UP villages hit by land acquisition.