A divided Congress faces tough odds in UP

A divided Congress faces tough odds in UP

New Delhi: Intense infighting among state leaders together with chaos in the top echelons of the Congress party could further compromise the party’s political prospects in the crucial poll-bound state of Uttar Pradesh.

Not only would it deal a blow to the efforts to revive the party in the state, it could potentially also impact Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi who is spearheading the campaign.

Uttar Pradesh’s 403-member assembly is scheduled to go for polls early 2012, but expectations are that chief minister Mayawati may, seeing the lack of preparedness among the opposition parties, call for an election earlier.

Although Gandhi’s frequent visits and his high-profile intervention in the farmers’ agitation in Bhatta-Parsaul in Noida had given a great launchpad for the party in Uttar Pradesh, the absence of Digvijay Singh, the general secretary in charge of the state, the widening internal rift between the state leaders and the dissastifaction among the rank and file against the state leadership have left the party in doldrums again.

“No work is happening at the ground level. The state leaders are busy fighting for tickets for their favourites—irrespective of their winnability. Even district level leaders are camping in New Delhi seeking tickets," said a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, who did not want to be identified.

He admitted the party has “completely failed" to build on its gains in the 2009 national election and that there could be further erosion in its support base if the leaders have not got their act together.

The state unit will also have to offset the political fallout of the inability of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in containing inflationary pressures, reversing economic slowdown and the allegations of graft levelled against the government together with its mishandling of the nationwide anti-corruption protest headed by activist Anna Hazare.

Badri Narayan, a professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Jhusi, Allahabad pointed out that the goodwill that had been generated during Gandhi’s agitation for farmers has been more than offset following Hazare-inspired protests. “Their fight against (Uttar Pradesh chief minister) Mayawati-led government has weakened," Narayan said.

However, Akhilesh Pratap Singh, spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh Congress unit, argued that the Congress will rebound. “People are fed up with the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) and have not forgotten the ‘goonda raj’ of the Samajwadi Party. The minorities also have rejected (SP leader) Mulayam Singh Yadav. So we just have to convince the people that the Congress can provide good governance."

The Congress is also trying to forge an alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which has a considerable support base in the western districts of the state.

The Congress party has already announced candidates in 73 constituencies, where the party’s prospsects are bright, and is expected to release another batch this week. “Both (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have taken special care to ensure that winnable candidates have been selected," Singh said.

The party is also looking to include younger faces among its candidates and accordingly Indian Youth Congress president Rajeev Satav is a likely choice.

“We hope that most of our youth Congress members will be there in the list," Satav said.

The Congress, which won 83 of 85 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 1984 general election, had been on a decline till 2009, when Gandhi inspired a partial comeback, with the party winning 21 seats.

In the 2007 election in which the BSP came to power with a landslide majority on 206 seats, the Congress could only win 22, the SP won 97, leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 21.

Claiming that the Congress is in a comfortable position, P.L. Punia, party lawmaker from UP, said the Congress would go for elections on the good governance plank.

“We will convince the voters that our government has taken action against those who were accused of corruption. We have not spared anyone unlike other parties. Good governance, effective implementation of the central government schemes and good delivery will be our plank," Punia said.

However, Mayawati, who had drawn flak for her style of functioning, the botched up land acquisitions and corruption charges against her cabinet colleagues is also making efforts to regroup.

The state government, in an official statement, said the two ministers—Rangnath Mishra and Badshah Singh, who are facing charges of corruption—have been removed till they are proven “not guilty" in acourt of law.

“Congress can revive its prospects if Rahul Gandhi works hard," Narayan said.

“He has to focus completely on Uttar Pradesh in the coming months and should be consistent like Samajwadi Party, which had been lying low but just got revived and has been consistent. For Congress, there is no organization and whatever the party has to achieve can be done only by Rahul Gandhi."

Anuja contributed to this story.