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Congress in UP is all talk, no show

Sharad Gupta
Sharad GuptaJul 22, 2016 | 12:06

Congress in UP is all talk, no show

As the newly appointed office bearers of UP Congress landed at Lucknow airport earlier this week, a sea of supporters was at hand to welcome them.

It took Raj Babbar, Sheila Dikshit and Sanjay Singh almost four hours to cover the 15km distance from the airport to UPCC office in Mall Avenue.

Is it an indication that fortunes of the party, which was on the brink of another disastrous performance in next year's Assembly elections, are turning?

That reminded me of 1999 Lok Sabha elections in Lucknow - between incumbent prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Karan Singh of the Congress.

At Sonia Gandhi's public meeting in Chowk stadium, I found scores of young men who, over the years, were known to me as BJP leader Lalji Tandon's - a resident of Chowk area only - supporters.

I asked them the reason for the switch. One of them smiled. "Sir, we are originally Congress supporters. Had shifted to the BJP, when Congress had almost ceased to exist here. With party again in the fray, we have returned home."

Is the same story going to repeated across Uttar Pradesh this time?

Congress high command has put its best foot forward by making a youthful person as the state party chief. They also tried to woo the upper castes by projecting a Brahmin as the chief ministerial candidate and a Rajput as the campaign committee chief.

With Priyanka Gandhi likely to campaign vigorously, the Congress is bound to be energised in UP. Moot question, however, is whether this energy will convert into votes.

Raj Babbar, a former Samajwadi Party leader and five-times member of Parliament - two of them in Rajya Sabha - is a seasoned campaigner.

He has been active in student politics too. Knows political nuances well. Managed one of the biggest political upsets in UP when he defeated Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law Dimple, in a Lok Sabha by-election from Firozabad in November 2009.

Similarly, Sheila Dikshit too made a record by ruling Delhi - considered a BJP bastion - for 15 years at a stretch. Delhi owes most of its development including metro and fly-overs to Dikshit.

Sanjay Singh, too, has been a survivor in his own right in Sonia Gandhi's fiefdom Amethi-Sultanpur.

But, there is another side of the coin too.

Raj Babbar lost 2014 parliamentary election seat from Ghaziabad by a record margin of over 5.67 lakh votes to General VK Singh.

Raj Babbar is the first president of a state who has been elected to Rajya Sabha from another state (Uttarakhand).

Sanjay Singh, himself a Rajya Sabha member, failed get his wife Ameeta win an election from Amethi in 2012 Assembly polls and again in 2014 parliamentary polls from Sultanpur.

And the less said of Sheila Dikshit the better. She failed to win from UP thrice before moving in to Delhi in 1998. It is a first instance of a former chief minister of a state vying for the top post of another state.

That too at 78 years of age.

Congress’ decline in UP is a 27-year-old story.

The party lost power in UP as in Centre, to Janata Dal in 1989 and never recovered since.

Initially, it supported Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, in the name of protecting secularism. The Congress was gradually ceding ground to other parties. From 94 seats in 1989 to only 28 in 1993, party was losing base at a fast pace.

In what was a step taken out of sheer desperation, the Congress in a seat-sharing agreement, surrendered three-fourth of the seats to the BSP in 1996.

The Congress contested only 125 out of 425 seats winning 33 of them, a slight improvement from last election but at a cost of erosion of base in a major part of the state.

Ever since then, usual tally has never gone beyond 30 seats. The party won only 28 seats in 2012 despite its vice-president Rahul Gandhi's vigorous and strenuous campaign.

This time it was clear to Congress leadership that it had to do something innovative, dramatic and unprecedented if it had to improve its performance in 2017 Assembly elections.

priyanka-pti-2_07171_072216114330.jpg
Congress is now a party of leaders only with hardly any workers. (PTI) 

The next election is again a four-cornered contest. Again, it will be more of caste-based election than issue-based. Every party has one or the other USP.

Samajwadi Party is banking on the “youth connect” of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and also the political currency earned by him through his two mega development projects - Lucknow Metro and Agra-Lucknow Expressway.

The BJP is harping on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image besides a caste combination being woven by Amit Shah in the state.

BSP chief Mayawati too is knitting her own caste blanket while hoping to reap anti-incumbency votes.

But, what does Congress have on its plate? A power-starved party having politically malnourished leaders.

Instead of working in their fields for a good harvest, they have become used to looking at other parties for some crumbs or bargains. A party which used to boast of having at least one worker in every village, is now known as a party bereft of workers.

It's now a party of leaders only with hardly any workers.

Congress might be hoping against hope that the new combination would bring in enough political traction to pull back its workers from other parties.

Given Congress's track record in the state, it is likely to remain just that - hope.

For the contraption seems to be making much noise with little to show as production.

Last updated: July 23, 2016 | 11:43
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