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The Congress story in UP: Party adrift, leaders head for exit

Of the party’s seven MLAs, all but two — state president Ajay Kumar Lallu (Taimukhi Raj MLA) and Congress Legislature Party leader Aradhna Mishra — have left the party.

Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi launch the party's 'Youth Manifesto' ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections early this week. (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

Tuesday’s exit of RPN Singh, and that of others before him, is symptomatic of a larger problem within the Congress. For a party desperately trying to stay in the fight, these exits are probably a sign that many of these leaders realised that the Congress’s prospects in the state, at least in the near future, are bleak.

Of the party’s seven MLAs, all but two — state president Ajay Kumar Lallu (Taimukhi Raj MLA) and Congress Legislature Party leader Aradhna Mishra — have left the party.

Since the start of this year, at least 10 prominent faces have quit the Congress, many of whom held significant responsibilities in the party. Singh, for instance, was on the party’s list of star campaigners and was AICC in-charge of Jharkhand. Many of the others who quit, like Supriya Aron and Haider Ali Khan, had even been given party tickets to contest. But that wasn’t enough to hold them back, neither was Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s attempt to portray herself as the party’s face.

Among the first to leave ahead of this polls was Imran Masood, the Congress’s young and most prominent Muslim face in western UP. Despite his meteoric rise within the party — he was made UP vice-president and AICC secretary — Masood left to join the Samajwadi Party.

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Masood, who once won as an Independent candidate from Saharanpur, first came into the spotlight in 2014 for his alleged hate speech against Narendra Modi, who was then the BJP’s PM candidate. While the SP hasn’t fielded him this election, Masood — who has tasted several electoral failures in the Congress despite getting over 1 lakh votes each time — believes the party will not be able to give him or his supporters the much-needed push.

“I do not deny that I was given a lot of respect in the Congress but the party lacks the push in terms of votes in UP,” Masood told The Indian Express, saying he believed the SP would be able to fight the BJP better.

After Masood, the party saw the exit of former Bareilly mayor Supriya Aron, who was given a Congress ticket from Bareilly Cantonment. Her husband Praveen Singh Aron, a former Congress MP, also left with her to join the SP. Congress leaders in Bareilly say Supriya felt that she stands a better chance at victory as SP candidate than as Congress candidate. Also, having waited long for the Congress’s revival, party leaders feel their personal politics will be finished if they go on to lose another poll.

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The party got another setback when Haider Ali Khan, a youth leader from Rampur whom the party fielded from Suar Assembly seat, switched to the Apna Dal (S), a BJP ally. Khan’s father, a former MLA, is contesting as the Congress candidate from Rampur seat against Azam Khan.

The Congress also saw exits by Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, 37, former MLA and great grandson of former UP CM Kamalapati Tripathi, who decided to join the Trinamool Congress; and Aditi Singh, the party’s sitting MLA from Rae Bareli who has now vowed to win the seat for the BJP. Two sitting MLAs from Saharanpur — Naresh Saini, who joined BJP, and Masood Akhtar, who joined Samajwadi Party — and Rae Bareli MLA Rakesh Singh were also among those who left the party.

The party’s declining vote share in successive elections is another sign of how tough a revival would be. In 2017, the Congress’s 6.25% vote share, when it won just seven seats, was an all-time low, almost half the 2012 vote share of 11.65%(the party won 28 seats). The party had contested the poll in alliance with SP, which too saw a drop in vote share — from almost 29 in 2012 to 22.23% in 2017.

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Many within Congress blame its fall on its alliance with the SP. The 2017 election, when the Congress fought on only 144 seats, brought many of its leaders close to the SP leadership but saw the party ceding its own vote bank.

Though, Priyanka has decided to take command and some of her campaigns have been noticed, party leaders admit it’s a tall climb. “As of now, only someone who is self motivated can continue in the party. Koi puchne wala nahi hai, koi connect karne wala nahi hai (There is no one to ask, no connect),” said a senior Congress leader.

First published on: 27-01-2022 at 04:00:38 am
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