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Why Congress stays marginal player

This is the story of the Congress in UP, which, after losing power in 1989, continues to remain a marginal player, reports Kumkum Chadha.

lucknow Updated: May 07, 2007 08:38 IST

When she was alive, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai was a big name in Uttar Pradesh politics. Today, her son Ashok is a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member and her grandson Harsh is contesting the assembly polls from Allahabad, also for the BSP.

Sample a few more instances: Senior Congress leader Ammar Rizvi campaigned for his son Misam, a BSP candidate. Then, well-known Congress leader Begum Aijaz Rasool’s daughter-in-law Ishrat is contesting on a Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket.

This is the story of the Congress in UP, which, after losing power in 1989, continues to remain a marginal player.

Noted author Vibuti Narain Rai attributed the party’s decline to the growth of casteism and communalism. “Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims constituted its vote bank. Backtracking by the Congress on the famous Shahbano case on giving maintenance allowance to Muslim women was seen as a move to appease the minority community. To win over the Hindus, the Congress took the suicidal step of unlocking the Babri Mosque and letting ‘shilanyas’ (foundation stone ceremony) for the Ram temple,” said Rai.

“The demolition of the mosque further alienated the Muslims. In fact, a large section of the community holds the view that the BJP demolished it (the mosque), but the Congress was behind the act,” said Rai.

Rai said the Brahmins joined the Ram Temple bandwagon led by the BJP while the Dalits switched over to Kanshi Ram-Mayawati. This eroded the Congress’s traditional vote bank.

Now, Rahul Gandhi is trying his best to revive the party and his statement on the Babri demolition — that the incident would not have taken place had a Gandhi been at the helm of affairs — is seen a bid to win over the Muslims.

Rahul’s statement seemed to have gone down well among Muslims. “P.V. Narasimha Rao had not reacted properly to the events in Ayodhya,” said Manzoor Ahmed, who runs a tailoring shop in Faizabad. Added Ahmed Mian from Ayodhya: “The Congress let us down. We had a lot of expectations.”

Congress workers are enthused with Rahul’s new role. “The sweat and blood of Rahul will bring results,” said Swaroop Rani Bakshi, the last Congress MLA to be elected from Lucknow constituency.

But others have many complaints. “The leaders never had time for us. If we go in the morning and they say come in the evening. And when we go in the evening, sahib would have flown to Delhi,” said party workers who did not wish to be identified.

Similar views were heard in Amethi. “State leaders are visible only when Sonia or Rahul Gandhi are here. After that, it is pack-up time and that is why the party has also packed up in UP,” said Congress loyalist Mohammad Rafiq Warsi.

The Congress is also a victim of “delayed decisions”. “There was a seven-year gap between Rajiv’s death and Sonia’s decision to join politics. The Congress lost ground considerably,” said former Congress MP Ram Singh. “In this election, by the time the party named its candidates, others were already out on the streets. Even Rahul Gandhi should have hit the road six months earlier,” he said.

“Hotel se election nahin lare jaate (Elections cannot be fought from hotel rooms), added Netram, a party worker. The Congress failure, according a cross-section of people, is the party’s inability to convert the Gandhi charisma into votes. “The real work starts after the road shows. But Congressmen think that Rahul’s smiles and charm will get them a mandate which is unlikely,” is the common refrain.