Mr Gandhi stakes his claim
Rahul Gandhi’s declaration that he is ready to assume responsibility for the party’s revival in Uttar Pradesh appears to be a high-risk proposition for the scion of India’s premier political family. But, then, as Mr Gandhi probably knows well, the stakes for his party, too, are very high in the state -- without a UP turnaround, the Congress can never comfortably run a government in Delhi. For quite some time now, there has been talk of Mr Gandhi assuming greater responsibilities, perhaps a general-secretaryship of the party. He has displayed political courage in choosing the tougher option -- offering to restore the political fortunes of his party in the state, a matter of despair for most senior leaders of the party.
The outcome of recent by-elections have given no grounds to assume that there has been any shift in the political faultlines in UP which have been determined by Dalit and other backward caste politics for the past two decades. Indeed, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav remain the two principal poles of politics in the state, with the ‘national’ parties like the Congress and the BJP vying for the third and fourth places in its political spectrum. The two other major groups -- the upper castes and the Muslims -- have been oscillating between these two poles. While Mr Yadav retains considerable Muslim support, Ms Mayawati appears to have made significant dents in the upper caste votes that traditionally would go to the Congress or the BJP.
But then, as the adage goes, nothing venture, nothing gain. Mr Gandhi has decided to stake his own political capital and confront frontally the challenge his party faces in UP. In a state headed steadily downhill in terms of governance and economy, he does have with him the legacy of his party’s secular appeal and a coherent pro-poor economic programme that self-consciously steers clear of any caste or religious appeal.
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