Can Rahul-card spell success for Congress in UP?

Political speculations and calculations cannot always be assumed to be correct. Nor can they be assumed to be totally free of some totally baseless logistics and may be even a few ill-conceived notions. Whenever there is the tendency to give absolute or larger than normal importance to assumptions, it may not be surprising if the degree of judgemental errors later turn out to be far greater than anticipated. Perhaps, in the field of political calculations there is a need to be strongly cautious of the fact that there is a great difference between what is desired and that which is deserved. Besides, some importance also needs to be given to rivals and the demands as well as desires of common people. It is not without reason that opinion polls, especially related to election results not always turn out to be totally correct.

It is essential to consider these points against the background of speculations, strategies and assumptions being deliberated on the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Of course, all political strategists and planners in the fray have the absolute right to deliberate extensively and intensely on their suggestions as well as proposals. It would, however, be politically erroneous to assume that any or several suggestions/assumptions may prove to be absolutely correct. This does not imply that importance should only be given to prospects of their being erroneous. Yet, the latter is one aspect which cannot be ignored whatever be the nature of assumptions and speculations being worked upon.

Recently, a lot of importance has been given to the possible strategy of the Congress for the UP elections. Media has been flooded with news of Rahul Gandhi being projected as the Congress nominee as UP chief minister. The Congress has apparently given some importance to this proposal as this is supported by the grand success gained by Nitish Kumar and his allies in Bihar assembly polls. During the campaign, the allies had agreed on projecting only Nitish Kumar’s name as the chief ministerial candidate of their grand alliance. Undeniably, over the past decade, some parties contending state assembly elections have preferred projecting their chief ministerial nominees during their campaign. In several cases, there has been doubt regarding who would be the chief minister if a certain party emerges the winner. For instance, if AIADMK wins in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha will take charge, if Trinamool Congress succeeds in West Bengal, Mamta Bannerjee will be the chief minister.

Similarly, regarding UP assembly polls, it is well known that if Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wins, Mayawati will step in as the chief minister. Akhilesh Yadav is expected to continue in office if Samajwadi Party (SP) returns to power. However, till recently, the Congress had not given much importance to the prospects of Rahul Gandhi being named as its chief ministerial candidate. Does this party expect the political tide in UP to turn totally in its favour by simply playing this card? Perhaps, the Congress is also keeping in mind the fact that before Narendra Modi took charge as Prime Minister, he was the chief minister of Gujarat. At present, however, prospects of Congress emerging the winner in UP seem extremely limited. In the present 403-member UP assembly, against 224 members of the SP, 80 of the BSP, only 28 are from the Congress.

In the case of Bihar, Nitish Kumar had held the office of the chief minister earlier too. People in the state were familiar with his credentials in that office. In the case of Rahul Gandhi, so far, he has not held any ministerial position at the Centre. When Congress was in power, he had chosen not to assume any such office. From this angle, the voters of UP know him only as a Congress leader and a parliamentarian from their state. Certainly, he belongs to a leading political family, whose father (Rajeev Gandhi), grandmother (Indira Gandhi) and great grandfather (Jawaharlal Nehru) served at different periods as prime ministers of the country. However, neither of them were ever chief ministers of any state. Only Indira Gandhi had held a ministerial position in the national cabinet prior to assuming office as prime minister.

Undeniably, in the past, several Congress leaders served as chief ministers of UP. Till late 1989, the Congress largely dominated UP politics. Subsequently, the power of the Congress in this state has declined against rising strength of the BJP, SP and BSP. The BJP is hoping that it will win Dalit votes and thus reduce the chances of BSP’s come back. Not willing to lose UP, SP has already released a list of its candidates for 143 seats. BSP leader Mayawati has also begun focussing on the UP campaign. She doesn’t see a strong challenge from the Congress, irrespective of whether Rahul or Priyanka is projected as the party’s nominee for chief ministership. Besides, the hard fact cannot be ignored that be it Nitish Kumar, Mayawati or Akhliesh Yadav, their success has been shaped by the caste and religious cards that they have played in their respective campaigns. Against the challenge posed by its rivals, Congress must decide soon on its game-plan for UP.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2016 on page no. 11

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