The alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh has evoked mixed reactions from the Congress. On one hand, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that he has "immense respect for both BSP President Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav". On the other hand, party leader RPN Singh accused the two leaders of of doing "exactly what the BJP wanted".
The mixed reactions stem from the fact that the Congress may end up competing as well as collaborating with the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Though the party says it will be contesting all the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, in the end it may end up leaving a few seats for smaller parties. The Congress is already negotiating with former SP leader and Akhilesh Yadav's uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav's Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) and is is said to be eyeing other smaller parties like Peace Party and even BJP allies like Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and Apna Dal.
The party would also benefit from possible rebels from SP and BSP who might be denied a ticket because of the alliance.
While there are genuine concerns in the Congress that it could get squeezed out by the BJP and SP-BSP alliance in many seats, the party cannot be ignored in Uttar Pradesh. From the Congress' perspective, Uttar Pradesh can broadly be divided into three types of Lok Sabha seats:
- Seats where the Congress is the main anti-BJP force
- Seats where it has a significant presence and could play a spoiler
- Seats where it is non-existent
Let's take a look at five seats that fall in the first category. These five seats, other than the family bastions Amethi and Rae Bareli, are perhaps the Congress' best bets in the Lok Sabha elections.
The last time the Congress won this seat was in 1984. Between 1991 and 2009, the Congress failed to even reach the second position in this seat. However, its fortunes changed after Samajwadi Party leader Rasheed Masood joined it in the run-up to the 2012 Assembly elections. Even though Masood has since shifted back to the SP and then to the BSP, his nephew Imran Masood is still in the Congress.
Imran Masood contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and gave the BJP a good fight, securing 34 percent of the votes. BJP's Raghav Lakhanpal won the seat by securing just 5 percent more votes than Masood. Even at the Assembly level, the Congress has two MLAs in the five segments that fall under Saharanpur Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP has two and the SP one.
Muslims account for nearly 40 percent of the voters in Saharanpur. Both Congress and the SP-BSP combine would hope to secure the lion's share of the community's votes in the seat.
Like Saharanpur, the Congress had won Barabanki in 1984 and failed to win it throughout the 1990s. It couldn't even come second between 1991 and 2004. However unlike Saharanpur, the Congress won a surprise victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, which saw a major revival of the party in Uttar Pradesh. The victorious candidate was former civil servant PL Punia, one of the most prominent Dalit faces of the Congress.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Punia, like Masood in Saharanpur, got more votes than the SP and BSP candidates. However, the Congress fared poorly in the assembly segments in Barabanki in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Dalits hold the key in this reserved seat, forming over 25 percent of the electorate. Muslims are a little over 20 percent.
Uttar Pradesh's industrial hub has had a different electoral history from rest of the state. It is one of the few Lok Sabha seats that the SP and BSP have never won. Some say this is because the city's politics has been determined more by communal and economic factors than caste.
For the first few decades after independence, Kanpur was a bastion of Left trade unions. Veteran trade union leader SM Banerjee represented it from 1957 to 1971. The Congress won the seat for the first time in 1980, when Arif Mohammad Khan got elected from Kanpur. In 1989, the Left won the seat once again but the Ram Mandir movement transformed the seat into a BJP fortress through the 1990s. But the 1999 election saw a massive decline of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, and the party lost Kanpur to Congress' Sriprakash Jaiswal.
Jaiswal, who is popular in the city, won the seat again in 2004 and 2009 and became a minister in the UPA government. However, he lost in the 2014 Modi wave to BJP veteran Dr Murli Manohar Joshi.
It isn't sure whether the BJP will renominate 85-year-old Joshi from the seat, especially given his age and the independent positions he has taken as the head of Parliament's estimates committee.
Jaiswal, therefore, has a fighting chance of winning the seat for the fourth time. However, his challenge would not just be from the BJP but also the SP, which has two MLAs in the city.
Kanpur is one of the few places where the SP-Congress alliance did well in the 2017 Assembly elections, winning three out of five seats. Congress' Sohil Akhtar Ansari caused a major upset by defeating BJP's Raghunandan Bhadoria in the Kanpur Cantonment seat.
Congress' main face in Kushinagar is former Union minister RPN Singh, who won the seat in 2009. A Kurmi by caste, he belongs to the royal family of Padrauna. His father represented the seat (then called Padrauna, not Kushinagar) in 1980 and 1984.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, RPN Singh lost to the BJP by a little less than 90,000 votes but he polled more votes than the SP and BSP put together.
However, the party contested only one Assembly segment within the Kushinagar Lok Sabha seat in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections.
Pratapgarh is adjacent to the Gandhi family bastions Amethi and Rae Bareli and the Congress has had a presence in the seat even in its worst times. For instance, the party secured around 15 percent votes in Pratapgarh in both the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly elections.
This influence is partly due to the seat's proximity to Amethi and Rae Bareli as well as the pro-Congress leanings of the royal family of Kalakankar. Raja Dinesh Singh represented the seat in 1971, 1984 and 1989 and his daughter Rajkumari Ratna Singh won the seat in 1996, 1999 and 2009.
Besides Ratna Singh, the Congress has another prominent leader in Pratapgarh: Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari, who used to be the MLA from Rampur Khas, which lies in Pratapgarh Lok Sabha seat. His daughter Aradhana Misra is now the MLA from the seat.
This is not an exhaustive list. It is based on the Congress’ performance in the past two Lok Sabha and past two Assembly elections as well as the presence of strong local leaders.
There may be other seats and leaders as well, such as the party's winners from the 2009 elections: Jitin Prasad in Dhaurahra, Salman Khurshid in Farrukhabad, Annu Tandon in Unnao, Pradeep Jain in Jhansi, Rajaram Pal in Akbarpur, Zafar Ali Naqvi in Kheri and Nirmal Khatri in Faizabad. But the Congress' vote share has witnessed a far steeper decline in these seats as compared to the five seats discussed above.
The Congress was also the biggest non-BJP party in Ghaziabad and Lucknow in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But the situation has changed in these seats with Lucknow candidate Rita Bahuguna Joshi moving to the BJP and Ghaziabad candidate Raj Babbar likely to shift to a different seat.
Therefore it would be incorrect to consider Congress as just a two-seat party in Uttar Pradesh. There are many other seats where the party has a fair chance of winning even amidst a BJP vs SP-BSP fight.
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