Long way to go for Congress in Uttar Pradesh

January 8th, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiNew Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS) One of the biggest challenges for the Congress party in the upcoming general elections is its revival in Uttar Pradesh, the land of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the state where party president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul have their electoral constituencies.From 83 of the state’s 85 Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to a pathetic nine in 2004, successive elections have seen the party losing its hold over the country’s most populous state.

Party leaders say they plan to revive the Congress in the state by infusing young blood and mobilising people on issues of public welfare. That Uttar Pradesh, accounting for the highest number of parliamentary seats - 80 - among all states even today, is crucial is lost on none.

“Regaining political ground in the state figures high on our agenda. The party is making efforts to broaden its base by involving more and more youth in party activities,” Jitin Prasada, a union minister and Congress MP from the Shahjahanpur constituency in the state, told IANS.

At a more immediate level, the Congress is trying to sew up a pre-poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party, a staunch rival of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the state.

State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said: “We are working seriously for revival. We have been active in the field by organising protests and fighting for people in a state where development is in a deplorable condition.”

Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan believes the party needs to do sustained work at the grassroots beyond the patchwork of rallies and roadshows of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

“The party has to revive its structure with more membership by taking up the day-to-day issues of people. Roadshows by Rahul Gandhi will not help, they are like melas (festivals); people come to see a star, clap and go back,” Rangarajan said.

Along with the number of seats, the Congress’ vote share also fell drastically from 50 percent in 1984 to 12.5 percent 20 years later.

The party never ruled the state after N.D. Tiwari’s term as chief minister concluded in 1989.

Sudha Pai, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the party never allowed the growth of natural leadership in the state.

“As a result, many of them deserted the party, the most significant being former prime minister (the late) V.P. Singh,” Pai said.

Singh was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and later union finance minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government before deserting the party.

Today the traditional vote base of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh - Muslims, Brahmins and Dalits - has long been eroded and shifted to the BSP and Samajwadi Party.

The reason analysts cite for this is the lack of party leadership from marginalized sections of society.

“Large groups that felt they were on the periphery, such as Dalits and backward castes, consolidated themselves with new leaders speaking for them and forming new alliances,” Pai told IANS.

“Today the Congress doesn’t have leadership among these groups. Efforts to change this have been minimal,” she said.

Prasada said: “We are committed to reviving the party keeping the national interest and the welfare of marginalized sections in mind.” However, he did not elaborate how.

For the present, the party is hoping to gain more seats by forming an alliance with the Samajwadi Party.

“Seeing the nature of regional politics in the state, the party’s national leadership is trying to work out an alliance with the Samajwadi Party,” Prasada said.

However, analyst Rangarajan said: “This might get them some more seats but won’t help in reviving the party.”

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