Rahul’s Political Gamble in UP

It is as yet too early to assume that the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will succeed in ensuring his party’s comeback during forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Nevertheless, speculations are being voiced on the prospects of his being made the national president of his party and his success in UP. Undeniably, if in 2014, a new comer on the stage of the national politics, Narendra Modi, can play a vital role in turning the political tide in favour of his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), why can’t Rahul be expected to do the same for his party in UP? It may be noted that though Modi was a new comer on the centre-stage, BJP was not. Unlike Modi, Rahul has been around as a Congress leader and a member of Lok Sabha for a long period. When the Congress-led alliance was in power at the centre, some importance was given to Rahul and he was asked to assume a ministerial responsibility. Rahul, however, chose to devote his energy to reviving the strength of his party.

Rahul has been engaged in politics as a parliamentarian and a Congress leader for more than a decade. He has been actively involved in campaigning for his party in UP assembly elections in 2012 and earlier. However, to date, there is no major accomplishment to his credit except that of retaining his Lok Sabha seat. During the 2012 assembly elections, Rahul gave considerable importance to visiting Dalit voters in UP. He also tried winning favour of Muslim voters. None of the political cards, however, helped Congress in winning a significant number of seats in UP. Rather, over the past two and a half decades, Congress has not performed well in this state. In 1989, the Congress won less than 100 seats and from 1991 has been winning less than 50 seats in the UP assembly. In 2003, the Congress won 25 seats, 22 in 2007 and 29 in 2012.

Against this background, it is difficult to assume that Rahul can use some political charm to turn UP’s political tide in favour of the Congress. In politics, irrespective of the strength that Rahul has at his command, some importance also needs to be given to the strong and weak points of rival parties. However strong Rahul may assume his credentials and that of his party to be, they may carry little weight against that of other contenders. Besides, without giving due importance to the weak points of rival parties, the Congress may not succeed in limiting prospects of their success. And till there remain strong chances of rival parties’ success, too many hopes cannot be placed on the possible gains of the Congress. Thus, however hard Rahul tries to play the Dalit card and attract the Muslim vote, the impact may not be much different from what it was in 2012 and earlier.

The Congress party, apparently, needs to wake up to the fact that though during their campaign Rahul and his sister Priyanka succeed in attracting crowds and gaining substantial media coverage, their political success remains limited to this. Despite flashing big smiles and reaching out to crowds, they fail to collect needed numbers of votes to ensure a good tally of seats in the UP assembly. Some importance needs to be given to rival parties’ success in ensuring their share of votes and the possible factors that may help them retain/lose the same. It is worth noting that at present BJP is trying its best to steal Dalit votes from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The political strategy of the BJP and Samajwadi Party (SP) is directed towards preventing the return of Mayawati to power in UP. Though these two parties have succeeded in defeating BSP, they have not reduced its strength significantly in the state. It may be recalled that in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, though BSP failed to win a single seat it polled 20 percent of the votes. Besides, in previous assembly polls, BSP won 79 seats against 229 won by SP and 41 by BJP. This indicates that the prospects of totally eroding the political base of the BSP are not as strong as assumed by rival parties.

Rahul needs to give some importance to whether there prevail strong chances of SP or BSP’s return to power. It is worth noting that SP has not totally succeeded in ensuring a peaceful atmosphere in UP. This party’s success in 2012 was partly possible because of it securing Muslim votes. Communal tension in UP is likely to turn Muslim votes away from SP and towards BSP. The prospects of Muslims favouring BJP are extremely limited. Muslims are well aware of the Congress being a weak party and that their divided votes may go waste if they support it. Chances of the Congress aligning with BJP or SP are as limited as are of BSP taking this path.    

The prospects of Congress or any party winning all 403 seats are far-fetched. Rahul needs to gamble on ensuring that Congress wins more seats than it did in 2012. Perhaps, the Congress should give some importance to a political understanding with BSP on sharing seats with it, from which both can gain.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2016 on page no. 11

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