Heavy Focus on UP May Cost the Congress States It Can Actually Win
Congress isn’t the top contender in UP. It should focus on Punjab & Uttarakhand, where its chances are better.
Priyanka Gandhi launched the Congress party’s poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh with a “Kisan Nyay Rally” in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, Varanasi. She launched a scathing attack on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accusing it of 'shielding' Union Minister of State Ajay Misra and his son Ashish Misra in the Lakhimpur Kheri case.
Continuing with the party’s soft Hindutva approach, Priyanka invoked Goddess Durga in her speech and urged the audience to chant “Jai Mata Di”. In a bid to outdo Narendra Modi, who fasts during this festival, she added, “I am on fast and I will start my speech with the ‘stuti’ (prayer) of Maa.”
However, in this bid, the party in a way has been forced to play on the tailor-made pitch of BJP.
Congress Has Lost Ground in UP
Uttar Pradesh is a crucial state and no party can win the general election without a strong performance here. The Congress has lost significant support and vote share in the state since the advent of the mandal and the kamandal.
Congress has been reduced to less than 10 seats and a 5% vote share in state polls. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, even former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi couldn’t save his Amethi seat.
The party lacks organisation and character in Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka is on a mission to rebuild the party in the state. She feels there is an opening here as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is weakening day by day. The regional force is staring at an existential crisis, Mayawati lacks her erstwhile punch, and there is no other big leader left in the BSP.
Priyanka and the Congress hope that that party can revive its traditional support base of Dalits, Brahmins, and Muslims. A section of Dalits may have been disillusioned backing Mayawati, who has lost two elections in a row now.
Some Brahmins are reportedly unhappy with the BJP for neglecting them, which led to the induction of Jitin Prasada in the Cabinet. For the minorities, the Congress is best placed to defeat the BJP on a national level. Such rallies by Priyanka do charge up the cadre and motivate party machinery.
The SP-BSP Calculation
The party in a way is preparing the pitch for 2024 and hopes to repeat its 2009 performance when it won 21 seats. It is unwise to assume the party is hoping for a miracle to happen in state polls next year, but small steps count.
This rally, and Priyanka grabbing the headlines in Lakhimpur Kheri, have unnerved the BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The SP hit out at the Grand Old Party, alleging that the Congress and the BJP are two sides of the same coin, and both have an understanding.
Priyanka knows that the Congress can’t do much in Uttar Pradesh alone but feels that this activism will force SP-BSP to take note and form an alliance. Else, they risk dividing the opposition vote, for which the Congress can’t be blamed.
The BSP had joined hands with the Congress in the 1990s but later walked out, accusing the Gandhi Parivar-led party of not being able to transfer votes. The SP had formed an alliance with Congress in the previous elections in 2017, but the results were disastrous.
But Can This Strategy Work?
As a counterpoint, one could argue that the Congress party is in fourth place in Uttar Pradesh and not in serious contention. Uttar Pradesh requires a lot of hard work for Congress to recover its lost ground and no quick results are possible unless the BSP melts down significantly, which is not the case as per polls. It is projected to get two-three times the vote share of the Congress in 2022.
Nothing magical will happen in this election for the Congress party. There are five state elections and strategically, Congress and Priyanka should focus on states where the party has a chance to win, such as in Punjab (where it is in power) or Uttarakhand (where it is the main opposition and which exhibits a strong trend of throwing out incumbent governments every five years).
Harish Rawat, former Chief Minister, too, feels that is on Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress is unlikely to do well. He feels the party stands a good chance in Uttarakhand. In Punjab, the party is lagging the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as per opinion polls — which may go wrong — but has clawed back with Charanjit Singh Channi’s appointment as Chief Minister.
Priyanka’s rallies could rejuvenate the cadre and possibly tilt the scale in favour of the party. This argument suggests she should spend more time in Punjab as in this way, she can also handle Sidhu’s emotional outbursts.
To sum up, Priyanka is taking a calculated risk by focusing on Uttar Pradesh to build the party for the long term. For the immediate future, the Congress is sending a message to Akhilesh and Mayawati that they can’t dream of winning Uttar Pradesh without a “helping hand”.
In the coming days, party workers hope to see more of Priyanka (either in rallies or actively involved) in other states where the party could win with a little push. Focusing only or too much on Uttar Pradesh and neglecting others will be a bad idea.
(As per Crowdwisdom360, the average prediction for BJP is 244, SP is 112 and BSP is 27 seats as of now.)
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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