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Friday, January 18, 2019

Congress's Holy Grail


RANJIT BHUSHAN | New Delhi, January 18, 2012 14:59
Tags : assembly elections 2012 | uttar pradesh assembly election | congress | rahul gandhi | priyanka vadra gandhi |

With Priyanka Gandhi virtually throwing her hat in the ring, metaphorically speaking, of offering any 'assistance' that brother Rahul wants in the big ticket high stake UP assembly elections, the Congress is pulling out all stops in its efforts to regain India's most politically crucial state, a vast vote bank which deserted it in 1989.

Party president Sonia Gandhi's otherwise successful and astute political moves have just one blank which needs to be filled – the capture of UP without which India's oldest political party is not going to be the force it was for the better part of four decades since 1947.

UP is, in a sense, the country's `aryavarta'. For the country's majority Hindus, Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya and countless other shrines are spots regarded as the holiest of the holy in their pantheon of presiding deities. For the substantial Muslim minority, UP represents the cultural homeland in all of south Asia, steeped in history and folklore and memories of grandiose empires that have shaped modern India: from the Mughals of Agra to the Rohillas of Rohilkhand to the Sharqis of Jaunpur.

Conventional wisdom has it that those who have ruled UP have dominated the country's political landscape. While in a deeply fractured polity such as it exists today, that is probably a euphemism, there is no doubt that the Congress's virtual absence from 80 Lok Sabha seats, save a few, have greatly whittled down its mass base.

Since 2004 when the Congress-led UPA returned to power, it has been its undiluted attempt to win back the estranged Brahmin, Muslim and Dalit voters, all of whom come in substantial numbers in virtually every constituency of the state.

The Sachar Committee was a step in that direction. It correctly identified the malaises that afflict the significant Muslim population, a majority of whom remain impoverished. But equally, it was, as if, Congress was atoning for its past sins.

While Narendra Modi is accused with organising the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, it is quite likely that the gen next in India are unaware of equally horrific communal riots organised in UP during the heyday of the Congress rule in the 1970s and 1980s – Maliana, Meerut, Aligarh, Moradabad, Bareilly to name just a few.

It is a matter of record that post-1947, the communal cauldron in the country was stirred substantially by Priyanka's father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, who in an ill advised move and with a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, had the highly controversial locks lifted on a two century disputed worship site at Ayodhya – a demand first made by sectarian Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and one that virtually finished the Congress in the state.

It is this constituency that Rahul Gandhi has been addressing during his party's campaign and it is this campaign that sister Priyanka wants to join in to give the Congress a leg up.

Of course, the UP assembly elections will not dictate Congress's transition to South Block as a single party entity, but success in the assembly would be seen to be a precursor to the larger game plan in the Lok Sabha elections and establish Rahul Gandhi as a true inheritor of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy – and by extension the keys to power.

It is no surprise that India's first family is going all out to woo the electorate. Equally on their radar is the substantial Brahman vote, the highest in the country in terms of size and influence. Like the other vote banks, Brahmans are split and partly undecided about their options but both Rahul and Priyanka are aware that two decades ago, it was this vote bank which was prominently responsible for the thumping saffron victories in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls which also went on to establish the BJP as a party on the national stage.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka know the value of protecting their family turfs like Amethi, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and its surroundings. In addition they want the old Nehruvian constituencies like Phulpur under their belt.

With alliances in place with the likes of Ajit Singh in western UP – a plan originally mooted by Rahul – the Congress is confident of increasing its vote share. It remains to be seen, however, whether the vote share will translate itself into seats. It is this last push that Priyanka and Rahul have in mind. If it works, the duo would have achieved what the party has been unable to do in close to three decades.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017