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Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Will the Congress Give UP to the BJP on a Platter?

If the Gandhis fail to contest, it'd seem that the Congress has thrown in the towel in India's most populous state.

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The common wisdom in Uttar Pradesh (UP) is as follows: Expect ordinariness and predictability in parliament elections to 80 seats from UP if both Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka refuse to contest from their traditional family pocket boroughs, Amethi and Rae Bareli.

If they fail to contest, then it would seem that the Congress party has thrown in the towel in the country’s most populous state.

Though the Congress will be contesting in just 17 seats to its alliance partner Samajwadi Party’s (SP) 63, Rahul Gandhi forsaking UP for safer climes like Kerala would be seen as the Congress party expecting a big win for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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What Are the BJP’s Chances in UP?

Earlier, Rahul's mother and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi had given up UP for Rajasthan in her quest to get into the Rajya Sabha. Most opinion polls show the ruling party winning big in UP. Some pollsters even show the BJP winning 75 seats.

Expectedly, the Congress party in the state is demoralised and largely moribund.

Even sources in the Samajwadi party claim that the Gandhis leading the charge from Amethi and Rae Bareli could help the INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) bloc and give meaning to the Opposition challenge to the BJP.

“There is a seething rage amongst the educated unemployed about how they have been made to fend for themselves. There are no jobs nor hope for them. Let the election campaign pick up, the BJP will realise that they have a challenge in their hands," claimed a senior leader in Meerut from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD), whose President, Jayant Singh Chaudhari, recently jettisoned the INDIA alliance and joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

This RLD leader, who did not want to be named, claimed the NDA would lose 40 out of 80 seats in UP.

As of now, no one really believes that the BJP can lose 40 seats in UP, but things could be different if the Gandhis aggressively contest from the state. A Dalit leader named Gautam R in Lucknow endorsed this view and hoped that wiser counsel would prevail on the Congress party and eventually, they would join the fray.

Mixed Beliefs in the Congress Regarding Local Support for the BJP

Despite uncertainty about Rahul Gandhi’s candidature, he still holds on to the belief, as many in UP, that the BJP is unlikely to win more than 180 seats in the country if the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) do not play dirty.

He thinks that there is growing misery amongst the poor and the disadvantaged and the central government has not done anything at all.

Worse, he said that the consecration of Ram temple on 22 January is being used by the upper caste to demoralise the Dalits. "What does the BJP mean by putting saffron flags on the houses of those who do not want?”

Speaking to The Quint on this matter, Gautam felt that the large population of the SC would react politically to it. And, BSP leader Mayawati, who has become a peripheral force, may not be able to do much to channelise this sharp reaction amongst the Dalits.
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Even the RLD leader in Meerut made similar noises about the diminution in the BJP support amongst ordinary people.

“When the elections were announced, I believed that the BJP would not get more than 200 seats, but now I feel that there is this vocal and aggressive section of the upper caste youth that does not want to give up on the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They are sold on all the benefits that have been given to them as well," asserted a Congress leader. He said that the BJP could now get a majority of the seats.

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Regarding Congress Candidature in the State

There is a growing body of opinion that if the Gandhis abandon Amethi and Rae Bareli, then they would be telling their vast legion of supporters in the state and elsewhere that they are not interested in reclaiming their lost political fiefdom or overthrowing the BJP from the centre.

“Why did Rahul Gandhi walk all over the country and raise hopes if he was not up to the challenge?” asked an angry supporter of the Congress party.

The Samajwadi Party leadership believes that the Gandhis may not give up the two seats entirely. For instance, in Amethi, from where Smriti Irani is contesting, the Congress may have a candidate from the Gandhi family.
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There are rumours that Deepa Kaul, a family relative’s son may be the next candidate or Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra could finally get a look in to contest the polls. Vadra has been desperately trying to become an MP for a while but has been ignored by his in-laws as it was feared that he could cause some avoidable embarrassment.

Vadra has a string of land-related court cases against him and the Gandhis would not want more questions about his conduct hurt them.

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Samajwadi Party's Firm Conviction Despite Flip Flops

On their own, the Samajwadi Party is hopeful of winning around 20 seats despite the flips-flops that they have done in announcing candidates for various seats of the state. The announcement of the candidates just before the closing hour has seen the chosen ones scurrying on choppers or aircraft to submit their forms.

Even then the party leadership is confident that it would be able to perform better as they have done a lot of work in terms of booth management. They are also confident that their voters will step out and back their candidates.

What about the allegation of Muslim voters not being allowed to exercise their franchise?

In Western UP as well as in preponderantly minority areas, Samajwadi Party sources claim that the Muslims and Dalits would not be stopped. The same resolve was expressed by the Dalit leader as well as the RLD leader.
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"If anyone tries to stop them from voting then there will be a civil war,” he said defiantly. The Samajwadi source said that his party lost by a small margin in many constituencies: "We have made enough preparations to ensure that the same fate does not befall us this time.”

Electioneering has not been visible in different parts of UP largely due to the fact that the parties have not declared their candidates for various constituencies. SP has declared 17 seats for the first phase of the poll that kicks off on 19 April. Congress fewer.
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"We are following the BJP in this. When they declare their candidates, we will also do that." Poaching is a major issue as the BJP gets a sense of disgruntlement in the SP and Congress. It managed to strike a cruel blow to the hopes of the SP-Congress alliance when it tweezed out RLD from them.

Though the RLD’s influence has diminished quite a bit from the heyday of the late Charan Singh, it was a surprise when Jayant crossed over to the NDA.

In one fell swoop, the INDIA alliance may be seatless in Western UP. This is despite the fact that the followers of RLD, Jats, and Muslims, are both unhappy over their leader’s sudden move that they feel has diminished their political status and standing in the caste-based politics of this region.

"At the end of the day, those who benefit from the various schemes of the government would decide the outcome of the 2024 poll like in 2019. As long as people have their stomachs full it would not matter whether they are jobless or not. PM Modi has blown cash from his treasury to feed his constituents to return to power and it’s a formula that still works,” said the Congress leader from Eastern UP.

(The author is the editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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