UPsetting the apple cart
The Congress and the BJP need to introspect on what went wrong for them in the UP assembly polls and how Mayawati, the latest star on the country’s political horizon, eroded their vote base. The results have stunned many, since public opinion had been heavily manipulated by media spin doctors who had presented an erroneous picture throughout the campaign. Mayawati’s victory has shown them up again, as had happened during the run-up to the 2004 parliamentary polls and the Uttarakhand and Punjab assembly elections.
The results have also taken the wind out of the sails of some of our politicians. For the BJP, the results are a major setback, not because it has secured only 50-odd seats, but because its upper-caste votebank seems to have, for the time being, deserted it. The BJP campaign was being run by the coterie close to LK Advani and Rajnath Singh, who has cosied up to the former during the past few months. M Venkaiah Naidu, former party president and an Advani acolyte whose knowledge of UP is perhaps equalled only by some of the second-generation leadership, was put in charge of the polls.
From the beginning, they sidelined leaders opposed to the Advani camp and promoted those who were given tickets in the name of ‘winnability’. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s absence from the main campaign and the successful efforts to marginalise Murli Manohar Joshi have resulted in the party paying a heavy price. Rajnath Singh, who has always been an unlucky mascot for the party in UP, complicated matters further by calling Advani a “natural choice” for prime ministership, even when VHP cadres were still seething over his pro-Jinnah remarks. The result was “people’s voice against natural choice”, as a BJP leader put it.
There was bad news for Uma Bharti as well, the only mass leader among the second-generation politicians in the Sangh stable. Mayawati has now appropriated the upper-caste vote base, which is essentially the Hindutva vote-bank. Being an OBC, Bharti would need upper-caste support, even if she returned to the BJP to revive its fortunes.
Similarly for the Congress, the results spell a need to overhaul the party. Rahul Gandhi’s valiant attempts to prevent a total slide is the reason why the party has not been reduced to a single-digit entity in the state. He tried his best to resuscitate the party, but much damage had already been done by state politicians as well as those holding key positions in the AICC. As in elections to other states, there was a perceptible lack of coordination. Despite this handicap in Punjab, Amarinder Singh was able to give the Akalis a run for their money by capturing 44 seats. But since the polls, some key AICC players have been attempting to sideline him in Punjab politics.
Accountability needs to be imposed in the party. Every general secretary and those put in charge of a state should be questioned as to why the party has been slipping, despite Sonia Gandhi’s efforts. It is evident that key AICC functionaries have either no political acumen or are trying to manipulate situations. It is not that they are unaware of the party’s weaknesses or are unable to read the ground realities. But somehow, the correct picture is never presented to the Congress national leadership and its weaknesses are never identified before and during the polls.
For instance, a week before the UP results, the late Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s political advisor, M.L. Fotedar, had clearly stated that Mayawati was on the verge of forming the next government and she would get more than 190 seats. But others kept insisting, both to the media and to their colleagues, that the Congress would win nearly 70 seats. The objective, it seems, was for as many people as possible to play this information back to the Congress leadership, so that the initial assessment given by them would find endorsement.
Their gameplan now is to put the blame for the debacle on Rahul Gandhi, whose efforts were only to save the party from decimation. Some of these politicians have now been trying to pit the siblings against each other and have been planting stories of how Priyanka Gandhi was able to get the Congress seven out of 10 seats in Amethi and Rae Bareli, where she had campaigned, while Rahul got only 15 seats in the rest of the state.
The loyalty of some of these leaders is suspect and in the name of trying to assess other parties, they actively hobnob with many discredited players without bringing any benefits to the Congress. The presidential polls are around the corner and unless shown their place, they may continue with their devious ways. In fact, it is time for the Congress president to invoke a version of the Kamaraj plan and seek resignations from all AICC and PCC office-bearers, besides chief ministers and ministers. She should revamp the party and the governments it heads, to gear them up for future challenges.
But full marks to Mayawati, whose stellar performance has ended what was largely perceived as a ‘mafia raj’ in UP. Her victory may compel the Congress to change its strategy to both contain her as well as to keep her on its side. The first indication of this new strategy may come when the presidential polls take place. It will be interesting to see if Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Dalit and key party leader, gets elevated to an important position or somebody else is fielded to stop Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The RSS, too, may now think of reining in the BJP and ending the free run of Advani and Co.
In short, a change in political style at the national level is in the offing. Between us.
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