Debating India
Home page > Photocopieuse > Living in the past


Living in the past

Wednesday 21 March 2007

The Congress in Uttar Pradesh is a peculiar animal. With just 16 of 403 seats in the outgoing Assembly, the party produced the loudest election-eve sound effects, much of it unsuccessfully directed at the Mulayam Singh government, which it wanted removed. Rahul Gandhi’s roadshow through the dust bowls of western U.P. is another example of rhetoric getting the better of reality. Mr. Gandhi attracted frenzied crowds, got a large slice of prime-time television footage, and made rousing speeches on the virtues of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. "Forget the last 15 years," he said, taking his listeners on a rose-tinted nostalgia trip to the Congress’ time in U.P. The burden of the young leader’s song was that the Gandhis are pan-national in their outlook, above caste and religion. Few will quarrel with this assertion: India’s first political family exudes an appeal that truly cuts across provinces, castes, and religions. But equally there is no escaping the reality of today’s U.P with its all-out emphasis on caste and religion. To complicate matters, lately caste and religion have become important in ways entirely unfamiliar to orthodox students of U.P. politics. Up until the 1990s, caste and religion were subsumed in the larger Congress personality. Then came a period of intense identity politics marked by the simultaneous ascent of Hindutva and Mandal, the former represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the latter by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. That the Congress was at the losing end of this churning is too well known to bear repetition.

In 2007, politics has changed beyond recognition in U.P, with political parties consciously blunting the edges of their once sharply divisive ideologies so as to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters. The BSP, which ceaselessly targeted the manuwadis through the last decade, is today pursuing Brahmins with a zeal that has left its opponents gasping for breath. The SP emerged as the largest single party in 2002 — not because of its Muslim-Yadav core vote but because it managed to wean away a section of the upper castes, primarily Thakurs, from the BJP. The Mandal parties grew by dividing votes. Today they want to gain power by consolidating votes. It is a lesson that the BJP has also learnt. The party lost power in 2002 because of its refusal to accommodate OBC interests. Today it has recalled Kalyan Singh and announced an alliance with the Apna Dal. As many as 86 Brahmins have found their way into the BSP’s list of candidates; not to lag behind, the SP chief is holding upper caste sammelans. Roadshows can pull in crowds but to pull in the votes, the Congress will need a stronger organisational base, a broader alliance, and a clear strategy.

See online : The Hindu

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0