When it comes to handling turncoats in Uttar Pradesh,the Congress has been smarter than the BJP. It has kept its distance from notorious characters like Babu Singh Kushwaha,but has quietly given the ticket to many who have crossed over from the SP or the BSP recently. By a rough estimate,political turncoats constitute about 25 per cent of the 320-odd candidates it has announced so far.
Congress leaders dont talk about them,but if you ask they would say the turncoats have been chosen for their winnability,and in constituencies where the Congress had neither a good organisational network,nor strong potential candidates in its ranks.
Most of these candidates belong to various backward communities the party has lately been trying to win over. It is part of the same effort in which the Congress made a deal with Ajit Singh in western UP,and decided to give a quota to Muslims within the OBC quota.
But the induction of turncoats has created a turmoil in Congress cadres in several constituencies and there have been protests,some even in Rahul Gandhis presence.
For,the neo-converts are products of the politics of caste and religion which Rahul Gandhi criticises so often in his speeches. They have been brought into the party at the eleventh hour and rewarded with the ticket,in preference to loyal party cadres. Most of them are rank opportunists who have changed parties several times.
Congress leaders have asked the cadres to respect the party decision and fully back these candidates. But there is a mutual mistrust between them and Congressmen. But these candidates dont need help from Congressmen,as over the years,they have built their own network.
To Congressmen,who had stayed with the party through its worst years,this is plain humiliation,inflicted by a leadership which had,only months ago,promised to reward loyal partymen in ticket distribution. There is also the question of credibility. In the words of a Congress leader,If this is what the Congress has to offer to the people,then are the SP and the BSP bad? This is question that must be bothering all those who were willing to trust Rahul Gandhis promise of a break from the divisive,visionless politics of caste and religion in UP.
Congress leaders,it seems,have no time to bother about such questions. They believe the party would again spring a surprise,as it did in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections,when it won 20 seats against the grim predictions of political pundits. The fact that the economic and political scenario has undergone a sea-change in these two-and-a-half years does not seem to bother them either.
But just to recall,in 2009,the economy was booming,inflation was low and credit for buying a home,car,motorcycle and other consumer goods was easy and cheap. Now,the economy is sliding,inflation high and credit expensive. The party is under attack from rivals for making the life of aam admi difficult. Scams like 2G and Commonwealth Games have tainted its image. Anna Hazares anti-corruption campaign has damaged it more than the political rivals could ever do.
The Congress believes that the central issue in UP is the politics and misrule of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav,not 2G and Commonwealth scam,not inflation. Rahul Gandhi himself is articulating this line in his speeches. He is attacking Mulayam for his opposition to English and computers,and the lawlessness during his regime. He is attacking the BJP as a party which had sold the name of Ram for political power but was bought by Babu Singh Kushwaha,who drove Mayawatis money-eating elephant. He is attacking the corruption and crime under Mayawati,and how money given by the Centre for schemes like MGNREGS,NRHM and Bundelkhand package was being siphoned. And he says whether the Congress is voted to power or not,he will keep taking a personal interest in UP.
His punchline: You have tried these parties for more than 20 years,now give a chance to the Congress and see the difference. An echo of Sabko parkha bar bar,humko parkho ek bar,which had catapulted the BJP to power in1998. Will it work for the Congress in UP?
Welcoming The Defectors
Nawab Kazim Ali Khan,Congress candidate from Suar Tanda: Left the BSP earlier this month,joined the Congress and was rewarded with the party ticket within days. Khan,who has been in the SP before,is the son of senior Congress leader from Rampur,Begum Noor Bano.
Dr Masood Ahmad,Congress candidate from Tanda: Left the SP and joined the Congress on January 5. Declared the Congress candidate three days later. He has also been in the BSP.
Dilip Verma,Congress candidate from Nanpara: Left the BSP and joined the Congress on October 1. Got party ticket on October 6. He wife Madhuri Verma is still a BSP MLC. He himself was an SP MLA.
Basu Yadav,Congress candidate from Patiyali: No one in the party knew Basu till her candidature was announced on December 23,the day before her father Devendra Yadav left the BSP and joined the Congress at a rally at Kasganj; he had earlier been an SP MP.
Sukhlal,Congress candidate from Puranpur: Was a sitting BJP MLA from Barkhera in Pilibhit district when the Congress announced his candidature; later,the BJP suspended him.
Fakhir Siddique,Congress candidate from Lucknow central: Contested in 2007 as SP candidate but lost. Later,joined the BSP but was sacked for anti-party activities. Within days,he joined the Congress and got the party ticket.