UP out of reach, Congress runs to shield Rahul

March 6th, 2012 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi Lucknow/New Delhi, March 6 (IANS) It was meant to be a virtuoso performance to put the Congress back in the reckoning in Uttar Pradesh, but star campaigner Rahul Gandhi’s efforts Tuesday did not yield the expected dividends, with the party finishing a miserable last among the four major players.

While senior party leaders were quick to try and shield Rahul, blaming the performance on the party’s organisational weaknesses in the state, the 41-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family took responsibility for defeat.

“I fought, so it is my responsibility (for what happened),” Gandhi told reporters, as it became clear that the Samajwadi Party was poised to take power in Uttar Pradesh, with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming second and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) third.

The Congress was decimated, winning barely 27 of 403 seats — marginally more than the 22 it won five years ago.

“We fought well but the results are not so good,” Rahul said.

The Congress was nowhere close to the 100 or even 70 seats it had expected in the 403-member assembly.

Party leaders like union minister Salman Khurshid indeed termed the results a “disppointment” and said the party will introspect.

But they refused to blame Rahul. “It was his decision and he has led us from the front. Please remember what he said, ‘I am here for the long race and I am here for the long haul’,” Khurshid said.

The law minister said Rahul “may not have made a difference to our comfort level and the number of seats we would have like to see, but he has made a difference”.

Party general secretary Digvijay Singh also sought to insulate Rahul from any blame game.

“He campaigned as a leader. He was not projected as chief minister. Why should it be called a litmus test (for Gandhi)?”

But that Rahul had invested a lot of political capital in the campaign was lost to none.

Adopting an aggressive style of campaigning, he addressed over 200 rallies.

He consistently attacked the Mayawati-led BSP over corruption, the Samjawadi Party (SP) over its association with men with a criminal past and the BJP for using the Ayodhya movement to gain votes.

He traversed nearly 3,500 km during his five ‘jan sampark yatras’in the state that began Nov 22. Upping the campaign pace during the seven-phased polls in the state, Gandhi covered about 10,700 km between Jan 28 and Feb 29.

He sought to pitch the Congress as the only party capable of delivering a government that performs and rouse voters on farmer and unemployment issues. He tore apart a poll manifesto of SP at one of his rallies.

Having been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for alomst 22 years, the Congress went out of its way to regain the support of the minorities by promising a sub quota within the 27 percent reservation to Other Backward Classes.

The Amethi MP paid repeated visits to Uttar Pradesh, partaking food in Dalit homes, interacting with students in varsities, and participating in protests by farmers.

Party leaders said the lack of a strong organisational base and absence of state leaders with mass appeal did not allow the party to reap the full benefit of Rahul’s extensive campaign.

“Avishvas Rahul par nahin hai (This distrust is not towards Rahul),” Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the state party chief, told reporters. “Why should a campaigner accept responsibility? It’s the candidate and the organisaton that is responsible. Our campaigner did his job brilliantly,” she said.

“The Uttar Pradesh results are shocking and this calls for a deep evaluation as this is not what we have worked for as we were expecting around 100 seats,” she said.

A success in Uttar Pradesh may have led to a chorus in Congress for a greater role for Rahul in the party and government, with Lok Sabha polls due in 2014. But that it seems, may have to wait.

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