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Monday, October 25, 2021

New beats in the heartland

The Congress revival in Uttar Pradesh is far from a done deal

Written by Seema Chishti |
June 1, 2009 12:38:29 am

The revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh is seen in a curious way in Manmohan Singh’s fully expanded council of ministers.

After all,when was the last time one saw the odd murmurs of discontent that enough Congress ministers from the state had not been inducted in the council?

Some way UP had always been the barometer for what the country was up to. In the state assembly,after five formidable Congress CMs since 1952,the party was overthrown and replaced by the Bharatiya Lok Dal’s Charan Singh in 1967,at a time when the national mood was for non-Congress state governments. The Janata Party wave in 1977 found a prototype here,and likewise in 1984 and in 1989,too,UP was perfectly in sync with change coming elsewhere in India. But after 1996,when the BJP registered spectacular gains here,UP took a slightly different route,the electorate began opting for regional players and the state emerged as an analogue of Tamil Nadu in the south,where the two Dravidian parties were the prime and bitter contenders for power. The trend was exacerbated in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and then in the 2007 assembly results,when the national parties were pushed to number three and four in the state. UP seemed captive to solely compulsions of caste,kin,a few frayed hopes and events of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

However,this time the GOP has emerged as the second largest party in the state.

Several factors conspired to boost the Congress’s fortunes here. First,the disillusionment of the Muslim voter (18.5 per cent of the state’s population) with the Samajwadi Party,a party it had unquestioningly embraced since 1991. The induction into the SP of Kalyan Singh suggested to the Muslim voter that the party was finally readying itself to consolidate the OBC vote,even if it meant disengaging itself from its Muslim core vote. For almost two decades,while Mandal politics had given the minorities a sense of relief as it applied brakes on the anti-minority wave ushered in through the Mandir movement,there had never been talk of offering anything else to a Muslim other than some security for his/ her life or jobs for Urdu teachers. Anxious to disengage with the SP,Muslims moved to fringe parties where there was a lot of anger,like in Azamgarh,and to the Congress in those seats where there was a viable candidate,like several constituencies in western UP. The triumvirate of Sonia Gandhi,the prime minister and Rahul Gandhi,and the Congress’s record over the past five years of leading a non-BJP government served as pull factors for the party.

The upper castes — a sizeable section of UP,unlike in most other states — too began their hunt for a viable claimant of their votes.

Upper caste candidates put up by parties attracted upper caste votes in some measure,but the prospect of Mayawati as prime minister hampered her effort to collect non-Dalit votes. The statues,pink stone elephants and giant memorials

being constructed all over,demo-lishing stadiums and libraries,the image of a mercurial one-centre party and the prospect of the “third front” pushed this section of the vote towards the Congress.

The Muslim suspicion of Mayawati too got heightened with talk of the Third Front or “equidistance” from the Congress and the BJP. With the prime ministerial candidature of L.K. Advani,political “equidistance” in this context was seen as a codeword for helping the BJP.

The Congress decision to go it alone too was seen initially as bravado by a young leadership; but the placing of interesting and “good” candidates as a way of attracting a critical mass of vote,and using the buzz around them as a way of sourcing an “organisation” of sorts paid off. In each village of UP there are many undusted Gandhi topis which no one had bothered to pull out for several years; but candidates and a clever campaign mixing nostalgia for Congress-rule with the promise of a future,a party whose leadership positioned itself as one that did not hanker for power but had the guts to renounce and “serve”,and Rahul Gandhi as an organisation energiser,acted as a force-multiplier and the trinity managed to pull off an umbrella effect,getting back about two out of three sections of its old voter base.

The Congress might rue its lack of network or organisation in the way the BSP and SP can boast of now,but precisely that lack of organisation — the absence of cronies — meant that the party candidates and the top trinity could work their message down to the voter directly,without any local

intermediaries to dilute or obstruct the political message.

There is not much discussion around this yet,but as the BSP

introspects,its hankering for non-Dalit votes to hasten the march of the elephant to Delhi may have cost it some crucial core votes. The lack of enthusiasm to crown Mayawati as the next PM was most visible in her Dalit heartland,where Jatav and non-Jatav divisions have come to the fore,and in seats where she cynically placed Brahmin and Thakur candidates.

There is much to be done here,and not all of it can be framed in terms of just building roads,bridges or schools. The political and governance pitch will have to marry these things imaginatively with a visible push for symbols of social cohesion,if the promise of the Congress umbrella is not to be frittered away. UP may not have appeared the barometer it was earlier over the past 20 years,but before this,the giant state has given ample evidence of delivering shockers — in 1971 the Congress had 73 of the total 78 seats,in the next election it drew a blank; from 83 seats in 1984,it came down to 15 in 1989. In other words,nothing in UP can be taken for granted.

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

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