In UP, Congress Needs to Target BSP’s Weak Spot & Aid SP’s Cause
Once it found itself out of the BSP-SP-RLD gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress still had the next best option for checking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s largest state. It would have meant recognising its limitations and leveraging its niche support among sections of the generally BJP-leaning upper-castes, to boost the gathbandhan’s chances from outside.
Instead, the Congress has gone ahead and launched a full-steam campaign. The view that the Congress’s solo act is actually a strategic move on the joint Opposition’s part – based on calculations that the Congress is more likely to eat into the BJP’s core-vote than the gathbandhan’s – is flawed.
Mixed Signals & An ‘Optimistic’ Congress in UP
This view overestimates the Modi vs The Rest pitch at a time when the BJP’s keenness for alliances is evident, and assumes an optimistic level of pliability among BJP-leaning voters. This, and an impulse towards strategic voting among Dalits and Muslims, that does not really exist. Plus, the energy the Congress is expending in its campaign and wooing small allies, and the noises emanating from BSP in particular, hardly suggest a secret deal at work. (If all this is posturing, somehow critical to a larger game plan, it clearly needs urgent review, given the confusing signals it is sending to the electorate.)
The only possible explanation then for the Congress strategy in UP, is that the party actually sees chances of an uptick in performance this time round. And given the importance UP holds in the larger scheme of things, it must be an uptick sharp enough to keep the BJP at bay, as successfully as the gathbandhan promised to before the Congress’s earnest leap into the poll arena.
Anything less may just allow the BJP to get away with modest losses in a state where it looked headed for a difficult-to-recover-from setback.
How Congress Can Benefit From Dalits’ Anti-SP, Anti-BSP Sentiments
To be accurate, there is a certain level of comfort the Congress can draw from the present ground conditions in UP. For starters, Dalits and Muslims, large sections of which veered away from the Congress over time, have reason to entertain the idea of voting for the Congress.
Dalits are unlikely to forgive the BJP’s inertia on atrocities on their community in a hurry. The Samajwadi Party (SP) has never really been the Dalit’s preferred option. Most importantly, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the original and principal beneficiary of the Dalit disenchantment with the Congress, is a diminishing force.
It has steadily lost vote share over the years, and its temperamental supremo, Mayawati, has alienated many a worthy comrade and invested little in a future leadership and new vocabulary. Amidst these circumstances, talks about Mayawati not being above making a post-poll deal with the BJP, would only work to the Congress’s benefit.
Congress’s ‘Priyanka’ Brahmastra
The BJP has hardly endeared itself to Muslims, and though there are no obvious reasons for the SP’s Muslim-backers to reconsider their support to it, the BSP’s Muslim voters may not be thinking differently from its Dalit voters. Clearly, the Congress threatens the BSP more than the SP, which could explain the strident attitude Mayawati has displayed vis-à-vis the Congress lately.
One, it could enable the party to reach out to and engage female voters, something rival parties have not systematically done. Youth in general, the greatest sufferers of the Modi sarkar’s failure at job creation, creeping lawlessness and intolerance in campuses and mishandling of the higher education sector, could also find Priyanka’s freshness appealing.
INC’s Achilles’s Heel: Internal Organisational Challenges & Entrenched Rivals
Secondly, coming as it does in the backdrop of a parliamentary election and the party’s decision to proceed alone despite the rich possibilities presented by an alliance with the gathbandhan, Priyanka’s entry signals the Congress’s intent for the long haul in UP, and could enhance the party’s draw in the state across the board.
Even if it puts its best foot forward and Priyanka demonstrates the savvy it believes her capable of, the Congress would still have to contend with internal organisational challenges and entrenched rivals.
These are formidable challenges and the Congress has little time to respond meaningfully to them. Perhaps UP’s 2022 assembly elections would have been a more realistic time frame to plot its emergence as a frontline contender for power.
Congress’s Road Ahead
In this backdrop, the best course ahead from the Congress point of view would be to target the BSP’s vulnerable territory and abet the SP’s cause simultaneously during the course of the polls, and work towards a post-poll Congress-SP-RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) axis.
The time for wondering what could have been is over, and if the question does indeed return after the polls, the Congress will not find itself blameless for having disappointed the Opposition cause.
(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and crime fiction writer and can be contacted @ManishDubey1972. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)