Proximity to the Gandhi family had earned black cat commando Kamal Kishore a Congress ticket from Bahraich Lok Sabha seat in 2009. In another constituency, a senior leader got a surprise call-up.
He had gone to the party headquarters to lobby for someone but got nominated at the eleventh hour. The rest was history – Kishore won his maiden election, as did the reluctant veteran, proving fortune favours the brave.
The victory of 19 other Congress candidates that year seemed miraculous too. The final tally – 21 out of 80 seats and 18% votes garnered – surprised the party leadership more than its adversaries. Not even the staunchest of Congress supporters believed the party could stage a comeback in Uttar Pradesh.
Five years on, Congress appears to be pushing its luck again. Its approach to the polls has been low-key compared to high-decibel campaign launched by BJP and Samajwadi Party. The lack of preparedness has baffled many in view of assessments that Congress star campaigners – many of the sitting MPs – will have a tough time retaining their seats. Leaders like Rita Bahuguna Joshi are exploiting differences within the BJP but it seems inadequate.
In 2009, the Congress was armed with the loan waiver scheme, job guarantee scheme and Right to Information. Extra ammunition in the form of landmark bills should have helped this election, but they do not seem to cut through the strong anti-incumbency.
Rahul Gandhi’s advocacy for women holding 50% positions in power also sounds hollow with only a dozen-odd women featuring in the Congress list of candidates. Besides, Muslims are reminding the party of their quota promise.
But old habits die hard. The party tried to rework its caste arithmetic including painting Gandhi a Pandit (Brahmin) during a rally in Pratapgarh on Saturday last. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav made a young Brahmin his agriculture minister same day diluting their caste card to win over Brahmins.
The secularism versus communal card failed too. “Minorities want to vote for a national party but it should at least be perceived as BJP’s main challenger,” said Aziz Ahmad from Gorakhpur. Others wonder why the Congress is downcast. “Perhaps we are waiting for a miracle,” a senior Congress leader from Allahabad said.
Senior Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Salman Khurshid had during the 2012 assembly polls harped on the party’s ‘revival theory of 2009’. But the party failed to maintain the momentum and won only 21 assembly seats.
The story was similar for Sanjay Singh, the MP from Sultanpur who is now a Rajya Sabha member from Assam. Some of the incumbent Congress MPs, back in the fray, had failed to even ensure the victory of their kin – Beni Prasad Verma’s son losing the Dariyabad assembly seat was an example.
Thus, there was method in the madness when Jagdambika Pal switched over to BJP or Raj Babbar and Azharuddin changed constituencies. Pal would have lost the election from Domariyaganj. Azharuddin would have lost his deposits in Moradabad.