Updated: January 14, 2022 12:52:11 am
Having centred the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh around women empowerment, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Thursday announced names of 50 women in the party’s first list of 125 candidates. Among the women were the mother of the Unnao rape survivor, an ASHA worker who was roughed up by police, a former SP leader who was attacked during the panchayat elections and a social activist and Congress leader who was jailed during the anti-CAA protests.
Vadra, the AICC general secretary in charge of UP, had already announced that 40 per cent of the Congress candidates would be women. The move is seen as a novel as well as desperate attempt to carve out a support base for the Congress in UP politics where caste equations traditionally, and now Hindutva politics, hold much sway.
The Congress has been out of power in the state for over three decades. The party has not been able to cross the 50-seat mark since 1991 when the Hindi heartland was pushed into the cauldron of Mandir and Mandal politics. It won only 7 of the 114 seats it had contested in 2017 in alliance with the SP.
Also in the Congress first list are an actress-turned politician, the managing director of a real estate firm, a former member of the National Commission for Women and a 27-year-old graduate.
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State Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu and CLP leader Aradhana Misra-Mona have been renominated from their Tumkuhi Raj and Rampur Khas seats respectively.
Sources said the average age of women candidates is 42 years, while it is 46 for the male candidates. As many as 21 women candidates are between 25 and 40 years of age, 25 are between 41 and 60 and four are above 61.
In the candidate list is Sonbhadra district Congress president Ramraj Gond who spearheaded the Gond tribals’ legal battle over land in Umbha village which had taken a tragic turn in 2019 when 11 tribals were gunned down. He is said to be an eyewitness to the killings.
These some of the party candidates:
Asha Singh (Unnao): She is the mother of the Unnao rape survivor. The case dates back to 2017 when the girl was allegedly raped by former BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar. A four-time BJP MLA from Bangermau, Sengar has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Delhi court in the case. In 2018, the rape victim’s father was allegedly framed in an illegal arms case and arrested. He died in judicial custody. In 2019, the car in which the victim and her two aunts were travelling was hit by a speeding truck. Her aunts were killed while the victim and her lawyer were critically injured.
Poonam Pandey (Shahjahanpur): She and other ASHA workers were allegedly roughed up by police when they tried to meet Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Shahjahanpur last year.
Sadaf Jafar (Lucknow Central): A social activist and Congress spokesperson, she was arrested in December 2020 following the violence in Lucknow during the anti-CAA protests. She later alleged she was tortured in police custody.
Ritu Singh (Mohammdi): A former SP leader, she was stopped, allegedly by BJP workers, when she was on her way to file her nomination for the post of the block pramukh in the panchayat polls last year. She joined the Congress last year. She had alleged that the women who were accompanying her when she was going to file the nomination papers were assaulted.
Alpana Nishad (Allahabad South): From the Nishad community, she raised her voice against the sand mining mafia and its alleged nexus with the police when boats of people from the community were burnt.
The party has fielded a 27-year-old graduate, Shivani Singh Baghel, from Etmadpur seat. Also on the list are former journalist Nida Ahmad (Sambhal), actress-turned politician Archana Gautam (Hastinapur), former SP leader Pankhuri Pathak (Noida), former NCW member and Mahila Congress national general secretary Shameena Shafiq (Sitapur).
Some of the women candidates are from political families and a large number are either UPCC or Mahila Congress office-bearers.
For instance, senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s wife Louise Khurshid will try her luck once again from the Farrukhabad seat. Henreita Rajeev Singh, the candidate in Bijnor’s Nagina seat, is the daughter-in-law of former SP MP Omvati Devi. Devi’s husband R K Singh is a retired IPS officer. Both had joined the Congress from the BJP in 2019. A four-time MLA, Devi was a minister in the Mayawati government.
Similarly, the Congress candidate from Orai seat, Urmila Sonkar Khabri, is the wife of former Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MP Brijlal Khabri. Urmila is a retired PCS officer.
Abha Chaudhary (Garhmukteshwar) is managing director of real estate firm Aaradhayam Infra builders.
Among the Congress office-bearers in the list are state Mahila Congress president Mamta Choudhary from Mohanlalganj, NSUI leader Pratima Pal from Sirsaganj, UP Mahila Congress East Zone president Shahla Ahrari from Rampur Karkhana, UPCC secretaries Sarita Singh Dohre from Auraiya and Usha Rani Kori from Bilhaur.
The other women candidates include former Mayor Surpriya Aron from Bareilly, zilla panchayat members Vinita Shakya from Mainpuri and Rajni Singh from Badaun, former Agra district Congress president and Mahila Congress state secretary Manoj Dixit from Bah and Mahila Congress Firozabad district president Yogesh Diwakar from Tundla.
Announcing the list of candidates, Vadra said the party had received a “lot of applications from women in every constituency… who were actually already doing some social work or doing some good work in the area.”
“So it wasn’t very difficult per se to get the applications of women, because they were very forthcoming and a lot of women really have had the desire to fight but were never given the opportunity on an equal basis.
Asked whether the Congress would extend support to any other party in the event of a hung verdict to keep the BJP out of power, she said, “Yes, of course, why not. There is absolutely no question, why should we not.”
The UP elections will be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7.
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