New UP Congress chief inherits a legacy of failures (News Analysis)

September 12th, 2012 - 12:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi Lucknow, Sep 12 (IANS) Will Nirmal Khatri, the little-known newly appointed Uttar Pradesh state Congress president, be able to turn the fortunes of India’s grand old party and bring it back to reckoning in the country’s most politically consequential state when his more famous predecessors have failed for the last almost quarter of a century?

It would seem an uphill task, given the legacy of failures he has inherited.

The Congress has faced successive defeats at the hustings for the last 23 years in various parliamentary and assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, that sends the largest number of MPs - 80 - to the Lok Sabha?

While optimists prefer to play safe - “let us see” being the common refrain - most feel that the political battle in the state is “lost for many years to come.”

Khatri, 61, who represents Faizabad in parliament, was appointed to the post late August, replacing Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who had put in her papers after the party’s poor show in the state assembly polls in March when it won just 28 seats - only six more than in 2012. Khatri assumed office on Tuesday.

Poring through the track record of the past state presidents of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) too offers little hope of resurrection. Party loyalists blame the “continuance of bad luck” on poor selections made by the party high command.

“Never have they chosen a grass root worker; the appointment of state presidents has been largely a matter of loyalty to the leader rather than about ability to take along the worker,” a disappointed Congressman, who says he has dedicated his prime to the party, confided to IANS, not wishing to be identified.

Since the party was swept out of power in the wake of ‘Mandal-kamandal’ politics in 1989, the party has seen a dozen state unit presidents.

But while most have ended up being union ministers and governors, the party’s poor run in Uttar Pradesh is yet to come to an end. And so it is not surprising that a party which ruled the state till 1989 slipped to become the main opposition and then sank to the fourth position in the state.

When the Congress came into the opposition, Balram Singh Yadav (1988-89) - a leader from the prominent Yadav belt of Etawah-Mainpuri and a known ‘foe’ of Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav - was handed over the reigns of the Congress hoping to keep “itself in the race of Mandal politics.”

This, however, did not happen and the party organization crumbled in the face of caste politics. Yadav went on to become a union minister.

The late Mahabir Prasad, who twice headed the state Congress (1984-1988 and 1991-1992), also could not create any ripples. The party did not improve but he later had many stints as a union minister and also as governor of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Narayan Dutt Tiwari, now contesting a paternity test case, led the state Congress in 1994-1995 and 1997-1998 but he too failed miserably.

With the Brahmin card failing miserably, Tiwari was eased out after the creation of Uttarakhand and made chief minister of the hill state. He later became the Andhra Pradesh governor.

Salman Khurshid succeeded him (1998-2000) and was made state unit head again in 2004-2007, but he too failed to whip up the party morale. He ended up being the union minister. Sri Prakash Jaiswal’s (2000-2002) stint too had nothing to write home about as for the party fortunes.

The MP from Kanpur however went on to become minister of state for home affairs and later a cabinet minister. He is currently the union coal minister - and in the middle of a blazing row over the allocation of coal blocks.

The Congress’s dalliance with other leaders too has ended up in a disaster. Jagdambika Pal (2003-2004), now an MP, could not even win his legislative seat in 2007 when Mayawati swept to power. The latest in the long list of state presidents was Rita Bahuguna Joshi.

President during 2007-2012 - the maximum for any state president in the last two decades - Joshi no doubt succeeded in raising the tempo, but when it came to winning seats the party failed miserably yet again. Joshi however won from Lucknow (Cantt) and is now a legislator.

Observers feel the party needs more than a face (Rahul Gandhi) and frequent changes in the leadership. “The issue of importance for the Congress in the state is rebuilding the party organizational structure; till we do not indulge in that, nothing happens, 2014 will be a sad scene,” a senior Congress leader said resignedly.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

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