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Despite Rahul's repeated visits to Amethi, Congress cadre unenthused

By Ratan Mani Lal

Lucknow: The recent rallies in Uttar Pradesh by top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have enthused the workers of these parties with the formal launch of the general election campaign still a couple of months ahead. But the lukewarm response of Congress workers to Rahul Gandhi’s repeated visits to Amethi indicates a growing apprehension about the party’s performance nationally, also reflected in the recent statement by Union Minister P Chidambaram that the Congress was entering the 2014 electoral arena as an “underdog.”

 Despite Rahuls repeated visits to Amethi, Congress cadre unenthused

Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The consistently high turnout at Narendra Modi’s rallies has boosted BJP morale, while Mayawati demonstrated with her show of strength in Lucknow that her committed Dalit votebank remains intact. As for Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, they are banking upon being the ruling party and are hoping that some support from the Muslim-Yadav combination may come to their rescue.

However, the mood in the Congress is yet to be enlivened despite the repeated visits of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka to Amethi and Rae Bareli over the last several months. Even Rahul’s recent two-day sojourn in Amethi failed to energize  party workers in Lucknow and elsewhere. The series of pre-election surveys indicating a near-rout for the Congress seem to have had a dampening effect on party morale.

On most days. the office of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) housed in a heritage building wears a deserted look. For decades, it was the most popular and active destination for those seeking proximity to power centres but now, the vast parking space inside the UPCC premises is mostly vacant except during the visit of a Union minister, or by Madhusudan Mistry, general secretary in-charge of the state.

Even the inauguration of the social media office in the UPCC on Friday by UPCC president Nirmal Khatri did not see the kind of jostling that is so common in political party offices. The social media office, according to UPCC spokesman Virendra Madaan, will disseminate the party policies, programmes and achievements of the UPA government through electronic media, internet, websites and social media applications. “It will also send out appropriate response to the misleading campaign launched by opposition parties,” he said. So far, this task was being handled by different teams at the district level.

At the root of worker disinterest is the “high command” culture that continues to mark party functioning. Be it districts or Lucknow, the regional leaders know that the selection of candidates for party ticket would be the sole discretion of AICC president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. This was made clear at the maiden meeting of the newly-constituted election committee for Uttar Pradesh, where Mistry said that while many names had been discussed and shortlisted, a formal announcement would have to wait the approval of the party president Sonia Gandhi. This effectively shifts the centre of political activity to New Delhi, rendering the UPCC leaders ineffective.

The election committee includes Union Ministers Beni Prasad Verma, Salman Khurshid, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, RPN Singh and MPs Pradeep Jain Aditya, Jitin Prasad, PL Punia, Raj Babbar, Shiv Balak Pasi, Pramod Tiwari and Jagdambika Pal, all MPs. Though the UPCC president Nirmal Khatri says the state screening committee would continue to go through the names being forwarded to it, the final call would be taken at the top level.

“A similar exercise had taken place during the 2012 Assembly election when a high-tech system had been used to select candidates. But the results showed pathetic performance by most candidates. What is the point if the same people and a similar exercise are to be involved this time also?” says a former minister and a veteran Congress leader.

This anxiety was visible at the leadership development conference for leaders of the UP Youth Congress and National Students Union of India (NSUI) on Thursday where several leaders from districts complained that they were “ignored” by the district and state Congress leaders. Add to this the frequent statements by Union minister Beni Prasad Verma criticising state Congress leaders, and the picture of conflicting signals is complete for those owing allegiance to either Verma or others, including Nirmal Khatri.

It is surprising that Congress workers feel despondent despite the presence of six important Union ministers representing Uttar Pradesh. The sense of connectivity with power just does not reflect at the worker level.

As for Rahul’s presence in Amethi last week when he opened up to the local people and the media, the Congress workers are not expecting much from the exercise. “It is a case of too little and too late. Rahulji says good roads and proper electricity is the responsibility of the SP government, then what do we get from our MP?” asks a Congress worker from Amethi who had come to UPCC for some work. There are whispers about Rahul avoiding a visit to the UPCC office during his frequent visits when he drives straight to Amethi after touching down at Lucknow airport.

With reports that publicity of even the flagship schemes of the UPA government is failing to arouse interest in the Congress, the junior office bearers of UPCC are worried. “Top leaders of the UPCC are elusive and even we cannot meet them easily. We do not know what campaign strategy is being devised for us and there is not much time left before campaigning gets real,” says a college teacher who holds a post in UPCC.

It will take more than mere tokenism for the Congress to recover even a fraction of ground support they enjoyed in the past.

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Updated Date: Jan 27, 2014 07:39:50 IST