Debating India

SONIA RESIGNS

A chance for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh?

Tuesday 28 March 2006, by PRASAD*K.V.

Sonia Gandhi’s decision to quit and contest again from Rae Bareli could help create the climate to revive the party in the State.

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PTI
TOUCHING BASE: A cutout of Congress president Sonia Gandhi at the site in Rae Bareli where the party is to hold a rally on Tuesday.

THE DECISION of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to resign her Lok Sabha seat and seek re-election from Rae Bareli has provided the party with a wonderful opportunity to kick-start the campaign for the 2007 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Right now, the Congress is anything but battle ready. Even with Ms. Gandhi and her son Rahul representing the State in Parliament, the Pradesh Congress Committee has shown little sign of revival.

Since taking over as party president in 1998, Ms. Gandhi has paid special attention to affairs in the State. Yet despite much chopping and changing, the UPCC refuses to get going. A part of the problem can be traced to the decision of the Congress under P.V. Narasimha Rao to accept the status of a junior partner while contesting the 1996 Assembly elections in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party.

That the Congress, which till then successfully ran a Government at the Centre for a full five years despite having begun its innings in a minority, accepted the deal showed the extent to which the decay had set in. The party was simply unable to make itself relevant in the State after the Mandal-Kamandal issues altered the political landscape in the 1990s.

Both these factors - the changing matrix and the alliance with the BSP - proved lethal for the Congress. Its workforce went down in numbers and subsequent attempts to infuse life have not yielded results.

The political irrelevance of the Congress can be experienced the moment one crosses the Delhi borders.

Even in the largely suburban and middle-class areas of NOIDA and Ghaziabad, there is hardly any evidence to suggest the party is at work. This when many of the Uttar Pradesh-based leaders have to cross these areas to reach their places of stay in posh Delhi localities.

Attempts by the Congress to arrive at electoral understanding with the BSP since the 1996 experiment have failed. At present the BSP feels it is knocking at the doors of Lucknow and is in a position to dislodge the Samajwadi Party-led coalition government. It has already changed tack by seeking to include the forward castes, despite its basic ideology of representing the Dalits, the oppressed, and sections of the minorities.

The Congress has not shown the imagination to work its way through this political minefield of caste calculations. To make matters difficult, it extended support to Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav to form a Government, a decision that is proving to be expensive.

Need for a firm stand

The Congress high command has to take a categorical stand. It is either with Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav or against him. The strategy of attacking the party in public, opposing it on the floor of the House, and yet continuing to support the SP in Lucknow is confusing.

The other major move made recently to appoint eight regional coordinators has failed to excite the party workers. Those supporting Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief Salman Khursheed maintain the move "sidelined" those gunning for him. Those who got the job feel the move would rein in Mr. Khursheed who they say spends for too much time in Delhi and too little in Lucknow. This is a case of a party working at cross-purposes.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi is understood to have shared his diagnosis with colleagues with whom he shares the bench in the Lok Sabha. One of the factors for the rot in the UPCC, he felt, was the inability to bring in new people to head the districts, what with some continuing in the district posts for close to two decades.

Fresh ideas do not exist nor are allowed to emerge. Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s own forays in Uttar Pradesh have been largely limited to periodic visits to his constituency and the feedback he gets from leaders and workers in the AICC headquarters in New Delhi.

Congress leaders who do not want Mr. Rahul Gandhi to take the plunge in Uttar Pradesh argue that his image could take a severe blow since the party organisation is not in a position to capitalise on his appeal. A CWC member who disagrees with this approach says politics is a game to be played from the heart and not the head. It essentially means getting a sense of what the people want and going for it.

Perhaps, on this count, Ms. Gandhi has proved to be on target once again. Having quit the membership of the Lok Sabha as well as the office of chairperson of the National Advisory Council over the office-of-profit issue, Ms. Gandhi could utilise this opening she created to stir the moribund party organisation in Uttar Pradesh.

See online : The Hindu

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