The Congress’s “Azadi ki Gaurav Yatra” in Uttar Pradesh started off on a dull note on Tuesday, illustrating the problems that the party — debilitated after a series of electoral reverses — faces in the state. The yatra is being organised to mark the week leading up to Independence Day but has received a tepid response so far. But what concerns state Congress leaders and workers the most is the absence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.
Congress leaders said the response to the yatra on the first day was limited because of Muharram and expressed hope that it would pick up in the run-up to August 15. They added that before the elections Gandhi, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of UP, used to lead them from the front but had now seemingly left the state unit on its own. In the run-up to the polls, Priyanka used to respond to most events, major or minor, to keep the limelight on the party, but she is now missing from the scene. At the moment, Congress reactions to political developments come from either the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari, designated spokespersons, or AICC secretaries.
In addition, the lack of a state Congress chief since Ajay Kumar Lallu resigned in March has hampered any attempts to regroup after the debacle in Assembly polls. While the Congress leadership has spoken of experimenting with dividing the organisation into six zones and appointing a working state president, sources said most senior leaders were not willing to take over such a responsibility, given the current set-up and scenario.
The party is in such dire straits that last month a video of BJP flags being found in the state Congress headquarters went viral on social media. Senior leaders said leaders in Delhi had asked the staff in Lucknow to film the discovery of the flags and send it to them. But the video got leaked.
“There is no dearth of senior leaders who can lead the state but the problem is that having seen the experience and fate of Ajay Kumar Lallu, who was made to work under a group of non-political people and ended up losing not the state presidentship but also his political career, most of the senior leaders have their set of conditions for taking up the responsibility. We do not mind hierarchy but it has to be a political one,” said a senior Congress leader.
Another veteran leader who said he had been asked to take up the responsibility said, “The party can experiment with any system that it wants but the problem is having seen the past experiences, it is hard to work under non-political people who become the first barrier between the AICC general secretary and the state leaders. For people like us, who have given our lives to the party, it will be difficult to work in such a set-up. So, the party has to take a call.”
Another state Congress functionary said the leadership was pushing for a change by blaming the existing system for the party’s current situation. “But, the point is that the party has gone further down since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” the leader added. “We lost even Amethi. Then, during the panchayat polls, for the first time the party paid expenses to candidates it backed but still could not perform and then the results of Assembly elections are in front of everyone.”
Some state Congress leaders said they tried to speak to the high command and did not get the expected response. Others said they did not even go to the party leadership with their concerns. Party insiders said there was also growing resentment among the cadre about the importance being given to some people who have joined from other parties. “The workers cannot be held responsible for the party’s losses. Most of us feel frustrated now. From time to time, we hear that the UP team will be formed. Last we heard was that a list would be released on August 2 but that also went by. People are not fools, we cannot just operate around elections,” said a Congress leader, adding that he would resign if a leader with a “non-Congress background” were entrusted the responsibility of leading the party in the state.