In UP, Congress campaign finally wakes up to Modi

Lucknow: The Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh for the coming Lok Sabha election has undergone a change in a bid to match the relentless onslaught of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi. Not only is the Congress playing the polarisation card unabashedly, it is also now attacking Modi as an individual which it has so far been avoiding.

UP will witness the first round of polling on 10 April where voting will take place in Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh with the involvement of an electorate of nearly 1.69 crores. Since most of these constituency have a high percentage of Muslim population, recent public rallies by the Congress in Ghaziabad, Moradabad and Saharanpur saw Rahul Gandhi play the minority card even going to the extent of defending the Saharanpur candidate who had used objectionable language against Modi.

Rahul Gandhi. AFP

Rahul Gandhi. AFP

Modi had addressed a massive rally in Lucknow on 2 March and subsequently moved to other states to campaign for the party. But he returned to the state with appearances in Bulandshahr, Nagina on 26 March, Baghpat, Amroha on 29 March, Bareilly on Tuesday (1 April) and Ghaziabad on 3 April. His attack on the Congress has now extended from calling Rahul Gandhi a shehzaadaa (prince) to include Sonia Gandhi, by taunting Rahul if he doesn’t even have trust in the reported positive findings about Gujarat of the Rajiv Gandhi Trust of which Sonia is the chairperson.

In turn, the Congress leadership seems to have decided to pull all stops to "match" Modi’s aggression. In Saharanpur on 29 March, Rahul Gandhi shared the stage with party candidate Imran Masood’s wife, a few hours after Masood was arrested following a video that showed him threatening to “cut Modi into pieces,” is a case in point. He seemed to justify Masood’s continuance as the candidate by saying that Masood’s comments were of a period when Masood was in SP.

According to a BJP spokesman, it is a clear case of sending a message to the Muslim community about the extent which Congress is ready to go for the community’s votes. "Merely detaching himself from Masood’s statement did not make Rahul Gandhi any less involved in those comments,” says Manoj Mishra of the BJP. The Congress attempts to bring about some polarisation especially in western UP which goes to polls in the first phase is rather obvious. This is the region that was affected by riots in Muzaffarnagar last August. The BJP has been under fire for putting up candidates who have been charged with instigating riots with their speeches.

Modi’s aggression is also likely to marginalise issues related to BJP workers’ resentment over ticket distribution and favours shown to new entrants in the party. Despite earlier talk that the party might change the candidate in two seats including one in east UP, there is an acknowledgement that the renewed pitch of attack on the Congress, now extending to all aspects of the UPA government will unify the BJP cadre to jump into the campaigning with renewed vigour.

"There is nothing unplanned in Modi’s itinerary. If he is keeping himself busy in other states with occasional appearances in UP, it is because he wants leaders of other parties to speak. He will come after that and then reply to points raised by others in an aggressive manner,” says veteran political commentator Manoj Tiwari, who has been the editor of a prominent newspaper. He points out that it is not without reason that Modi’s attacks on the UPA government and Congress leaders are becoming sharper, as turning the campaign into one-to-one competition or even personalised attacks suits his strategy.

On the other hand, Ashish Shukla, professor of law in a Lucknow University-affiliated college, says that Modi’s speeches may have lost some of their novelty value, but it cannot be construed as campaign fatigue as mentioned by some observers. "Modi knows UP is strategically important for him and his party. He is creating a feverish pitch in BJP’s favour all over the country and then he will come to UP to further shore up the campaign,” he says.

Atahar Husain, who heads Lucknow First, a civil society movement and also puts forth the Muslim community’s viewpoint on many channels and publications, says Modi’s attempt to portray that only he is the symbol of change as if nothing had been achieved in India so far, is causing resentment among his supporters from all communities. “The party’s anthem in which he alone is shown as a change agent has not gone down well with Muslims,” he says. But he would not say this could be reason for Modi to keep himself away from UP. “His agenda is nationwide and he will come back when sufficient tempo is created in BJP’s favour,” he thinks.

The campaign pitch is expected to reach a new level of name-calling with the Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati intensifying their campaign in the coming days. Mayawati has lined up a busy schedule of addressing rallies in UP from 3 April, when she will speak in Bijnore. She will remain in UP till the end of campaigning, covering the entire state with dozens of rallies.
While Modi is now increasingly referring to the “dynastic politics” of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family, it is to be expected that the SP will also come up with new adjectives about Modi. “The Congress will have to match the rhetoric and name-calling if it wants to be acknowledged by the voters as party having enough capability,” says Shukla.

It will not surprise anyone if Modi’s response to those points, in his second round of campaigning, is more fierce and stinging.

Updated Date: Apr 01, 2014 16:01 PM

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