Last week, the Congress launched Priyanka Gandhi Vadra formally in politics by appointing her AICC general secretary for Uttar Pradesh East. It is a region that presents an interesting fulcrum to situate the battle for India and its numerous fault-lines:
East is central
The idea of eastern UP has been central to the BJP’s politics since 2014. Of all the second seats that then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could have picked outside Gujarat, he chose Varanasi, one of India’s oldest cities and important pilgrim centres, and a flagship in the modern Hindu and Brahminical scheme of things. Here is where Manikarnika Ghat is — according to Hindu philosophy the gateway to salvation where one goes to die — as well as Banaras Hindu University, that bastion of conservative pride and academic tradition. There is the Ganga and, Ayodhya-like, the Gyanvapi mosque, another “disputed” place of worship of tremendous interest to the Sangh.
That the BJP picked Yogi Adityanath, mahant of Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, east of Varanasi, as Chief Minister after the sweeping mandate in 2017 completed the narrative.
And all these are just peripherals. The region includes Ayodhya, where the BJP agenda of building a Ram mandir has been made clear in recent events. If any more examples are needed about the region’s importance to the BJP, the Ardh-Kumbh was renamed Kumbh by Yogi, after Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj.
Eastern UP is where Buddha’s last resting place is — Kushinagar. This is where Kabir Das lived, and includes his last resting place, in Maghar in Khalilabad.
Old Congress connect
Priyanka’s karmabhoomi presents her party with an opportunity as well as a challenge, considering the Congress’s older connect with the region. Apart from Rae Bareli and Amethi, continuously contested by the family since Feroze Gandhi’s time, Allahabad is the seat of Jawaharlal Nehru, who comfortably won Phulpur thrice.
As an early cosmopolitan city, this was where the idea of the Congress took shape in northern India, and blossomed with laywers, doctors and others being first attracted to British ways of life and then to the need for overthrowing the Raj.
Eastern UP was the seat of a peasant revolt that fuelled the national movement, and incubated the powerful All India Kisan Sabha, born out of subtle pressure by the Congress Socialist Party, a forum allowing socialists and communists to work with the Congress. The Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress on April 11, 1936 resulted in AIKS.
The Kisan Manifesto in August 1936 called for the abolition of the zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts, and in October 1937 it adopted the red flag as its banner. It grew distant from the Congress but remained one of the most radical ideas to emerge from the pre-Independence struggle, with increased relevance today.
Chauri-Chaura, part of Gorakhpur now, saw peasant anger leading to the burning of a police station and the death of 22 policemen in 1922, a major point of inflection which led to M K Gandhi pulling back the non-cooperation movement.
Make or break
If 2019 is going to be remembered for defining the future of the two major parties, much of it could be courtesy eastern UP, where so many fortunes will be tested. Modi and Yogi would be looking to imprint UP with their ideas of India and meet the challenge of the latest Gandhi in the fray with new energy and strategies.
For the Congress, this opens the battle for UP, where it has a lot at stake. From being bystanders cheering the mahagatbandhan, it is now in a battle beyond numbers.
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