UP: Rahul not enough, Cong has no legs to run

With no strong organisational structure and local leaders to fall back on, the party has a hard task on hand.

Akshaya Mishra February 14, 2012 18:54:57 IST
UP: Rahul not enough, Cong has no legs to run

Lucknow: From 8.6 percent of votes in 2007 assembly polls to 18.25 percent in the parliamentary polls in 2009. That’s a quantum jump. Going by this trajectory, the Congress should be performing much better in 2012. But not many poll analysts are enthusiastic about the prospects of the party in Uttar Pradesh. They would rather take the 2007 polls – Congress won 22 seats – as the reference base to evaluate the party’s performance.

"Yes, there’s some definite goodwill for the Congress this time. But forget comparing 2009 to 2007. People vote differently in both elections and a lot many local interests and equations come into play in the assembly elections. The party is way behind the BSP and the SP when it comes to commanding a stable vote base,’’ says Ramesh Dixit, retired professor of Lucknow University, and poll analyst.

The period prior to 2009 does not paint a rosy picture for the party. Over 80 percent of the Congress candidates in the state had lost their deposits in the assembly elections of 2002. In 2007 elections the numbers were equally depressing. In 2004 parliamentary polls the party had secured around 12 percent of the total votes. Even in the Nehru-Gandhi pocket borough, Raibareli and Amethi, the showing was disastrous. Not much has changed dramatically on the ground for the party to harbour high hopes.

Its weaknesses are basic: lack of an organisational structure and absence of leaders at the local level. Being out of power for 22 years – the last time it was in power was in 1989, under the leadership of ND Tiwari – certainly has taken its toll on the party. It has virtually no cadre base, unlike the SP and the BSP, which would keep it in touch with the popular mood on a continuous basis, and more crucially, play a role in booth-level election management. This is where translation of goodwill into votes takes place.

"Rahul Gandhi can only do this much. There is no doubt he has come across as a trustworthy leader and he is hardworking too. But without the support of an organisation his efforts are not going to work. Goodwill is alright but finally voters have to be taken to booths. That is where organisation plays a crucial role. And where are the local leaders to vote for?’’ asks an UP poll watcher.

UP Rahul not enough Cong has no legs to run

Gandhi addressing an election campaign rally in support of Congress, in Agra. PTI

Congress’s politics earlier revolved around the Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin combination. In the two decades the party has been out of power this vote bank has collapsed. The Dalits have veered towards the BSP, while the Muslims to a large extent towards the Samajwadi Party. The Brahmins, who constitute around nine percent of voters, have been oscillating between the BJP and the BSP. The party’s primary challenge has been to renew its engagement with the alienated support base besides building a network of loyalties across castes.

The Chamars, who are numerically the strongest among the Dalits, are with the BSP. So the Congress is focussing on the ati-Dalits (the most backward among Dalits), which include castes such as Pasas, Nais and Bhangis. Since the OBC votes are certain to go to the SP, the Congress is targeting the ati-pichhads (the most backward among OBCs, or the MBCs). It is also making efforts to woo Brahmins and Muslims back to its fold besides trying to rope in Kurmis, an OBC group, in its own version of the rainbow coalition.

"It is true that Brahmins are disenchanted with the BSP. The only Brahmin who seems to have benefitted from the caste’s alliance with the BSP is Satish Mishra. The rest of the community is looking for options. They might vote for either the Congress or the BJP depending on the winning chances of the local candidate. They won’t waste their vote on parties offering weak candidates,’’ said a senior journalist who did not want to be named.

Social engineering is one important aspect; the other is the selection of the right candidate. In the absence of leaders of its own, the Congress has gone for the next best option, turncoats and rejects from other parties, including the BSP, the SP and the BJP. Some of them are with criminal records.

This is precisely where the problem for the party lies.

"These candidates do not have any loyalty to the Congress. In case of a hung assembly they will be the first ones to be poached by parties hopeful of making it beyond the half-way mark,’’ says the journalist. In that case the Congress, despite all its aggressive campaigning, comes back to where it begun.

A good performance does not mean revival for the Congress. It has to keep its flock together after the polls. That is where its real challenge lies.

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