The Congress may be down and out in the State for the moment, but it still has an organisation and committed voters there. But it is determined to commit harakiri
At an event to mark the arrival of Priyanka Vadra into full-time politics in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had asserted that his party would “play on the front foot” in the State in the coming Lok Sabha election. He sought to dispel the impression that the Congress was in the dumps after being left out of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance. That was barely a month ago. But now the party has announced that it would not put up candidates in as many as seven seats in the State in order to facilitate the electoral victory of key members of the Yadav family as well as Mayawati and her close associates.
If the SP and the BSP had believed that Congress was a major player in the State, they would have accommodated the party in the coalition
This is indeed a strange way of playing on the front foot. Instead of seeking to maximise its chances, it has through this decision further constricted its prospects in the State. This should come as a damper for the rank and file of Congress workers in Uttar Pradesh who were raring to demonstrate that their party still counted and could not be held hostage to regional heavyweights.
Had there been gains to be extracted from this ‘magnanimity’, one could have appreciated the Congress’s tactical move. But there are none for the party. The SP-BSP combine had decided to not have its candidate from just two seats — Amethi and Rae Bareilly — but the Congress has gone overboard in its reciprocation. If it believes that the two regional parties would be beholden to it, it is mistaken. The Congress’s decision makes no real difference to the coalition on the ground, simply because the former can neither win nor take away too many of the alliance’s votes in the seven seats it has conceded. On the other hand, it’s quite possible a good chunk of the Congress votes, in the absence of a Congress candidate, could go to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
If the SP and the BSP had believed that Congress was a major player in the State, they would have accommodated the party in the coalition. Having been snubbed, the virtuous route left for the party was to have contested on its own strength, if not for anything else at least to keep the morale of its workers high. Rahul Gandhi has openly said that his party was eyeing a return to power in the State Assembly. But capitulation of the kind now seen is hardly the best way to go about achieving this medium-term goal. The Congress may be down and out in the State for the moment, but it still has an organisation and committed voters there. But it is determined to commit harakiri.
Smriti Irani, has perhaps visited the constituency more often than Rahul Gandhi has, and has sustained and enhanced her connect with the people there
Congress can always argue that it has taken the route of ‘sacrifice’ with the larger aim of ousting Narendra Modi and his BJP. But then, such sacrifice is also a tacit admission of its own lack of capacity to take on the Prime Minister in a State which had been a Nehru-Gandhi bastion. Over the years, the party has lost hold on both Allahabad, where the Nehru family once resided in what was then Anand Bhavan and Phulpur, a constituency which was represented by Jawaharlal Nehru. The Congress was left majorly with Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. The last is gone too, and the first two are represented by Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi respectively. In the 2014 election, Rahul Gandhi won by a much-reduced margin against a newcomer — the BJP’s Smriti Irani.
Perhaps the last fact must have played on the minds of the Congress when it gave up seven seats in favour of an alliance in which it was offered no space. Had the SP-BSP decided to field its candidate in Amethi, it would have meant big trouble for Rahul Gandhi, assuming he would re-contest from that constituency. Not only did the constituency see no real development in the nearly 15 years of his being an MP from there, but that a slew of projects which has been unleashed by the Modi-Adityanath regime has adroitly sought to appeal to the local voters to understand where their interests lay — with dynasty or with development.
To add an interesting bit to the story, the losing candidate in 2014, Smriti Irani, has perhaps visited the constituency more often than Rahul Gandhi has, and has sustained and enhanced her connect with the people there. Contrast this with the case of Arvind Kejriwal who, after being roundly defeated in Varanasi when he contested against Modi, barely ever visited the place, let alone having attempted a political outreach. Had Irani and the BJP abandoned Amethi after the loss, Rahul Gandhi would have been sitting pretty and would not have had the need to humour the SP and the BSP by sacrificing the Congress’s interests in Uttar Pradesh.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.