UP Muslims may not vote for Congress

By Mohammad Shahid

Lucknow: During his east UP visit at a chaupal where Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi was highlighting the failures of the Mayawati Government, a villager asked: ‘Why the Government is unable to check the price rise?’ Naturally, Mr. Gandhi felt uncomfortable and kept quiet. ‘The message is clear’, said another villager, ‘he is out to highlight only the failures of the Mayawati Government.’ This sums up the mood of the voters in the state and also the fact that price rise, not corruption, will harm Rahul’s ‘Mission UP 2012’ the most. Another factor which may prove to be the undoing of the Congress and Rahul mission is the disenchantment of Muslims with the party they supported in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Significantly, the Congress has decided to make a strong pitch for Muslim attention, with a sub-plan in its campaign programme to hold rallies in minority-dominated districts like Azamgarh, Aligarh, Bareilly, Lucknow and Lakhimpur. Besides, the party has also decided to discuss Muslim demands regarding education, entrepreneurship, skill development and security in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs which is seen as a move meant not only for UP polls but to set the tone for a  decisive showdown in 2014.

The Congress, which raised its Lok Sabha tally from U.P. from ten to 22 in the 2009 elections, was mainly because of the support of Muslims who were then annoyed with Mulayam Singh Yadav  for hobnobbing with Kalayan Singh whom the community held responsible for the demolition of the Babri masjid. But much water has flown down the Ganges since then. Mulayam has now distanced from Kalyan and apologized to the community. Muslims may or may not have forgiven the SP chief but the Congress is not too sure if the same story of 2009 will be repeated in an Assembly contest. With the main choice of the electorate broadly restricted to regional parties, the calculations in the Assembly poll are different and may not go in Congress’ favour.

The Congress is aware of this fact and also that it has ignored Muslims’ demand for years which may harm its interest in the elections. Hence there is sudden interest in the community’s problems. However, Muslims this time are determined not to get swayed by hollow promises of the parties as reflected in the statement of All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Zafaryab Jilani’s statement after a Reservation Movement rally here: “This time only promises by parties won’t do. If the Congress and BSP governments fail to take concrete steps, they will face the consequences in the elections.”

Apart from the Muslim factor, corruption, price rise and lack of committed cadre at grassroots level are the issues that may hamper the progress of Congress Juggernaut in the state. As far as corruption is concerned, no party is above the board and Congress cannot be singled out. With Anna movement getting mired in controversies, especially after its call to boycott Congress in Hissar poll, corruption is not as big issue as the price rise which has hit the common man badly. Whatever the Congress may say in its defence, the general feeling among people is that the Manmohan government is more concerned about the profit to corporate houses than the plight of the common man. They say that our Prime Minister is ready to forego taxes worth lakhs of crores to benefit the corporate houses because he thinks that is necessary for the nation’s progress but when it comes to giving subsidy on kerosene, fertilizers and other consumer goods used by common man, he becomes handicapped because it hinders progress in his view.

Then there is the lack of committed Congress workers at village level who could motivate the voters and ensure that votes of those sympathetic to the party are polled. Gone are the days when Congress leaders came from modest background who toured and worked in their constituencies extensively and struck a personal bond with the people who mattered. Thus they were able to know the pulse of the people. The times have changed. Now the leaders are foisted from above who are not aware of the ground realities of their constituencies. There are leaders and candidates who do not know the roads and streets of the villages which fall in their constituencies but have succeeded in getting party tickets either through the influence of their fathers or by pleasing the bosses in Delhi and Lucknow. Such leaders are parasites who survive on the party popularity without having an image or vote of their own. That is perhaps why, as a Congress leader says, the party this time is looking for candidates with mass base who can win the election on their own.

These are the odds which Rahul Gandhi will have to overcome to make the Congress a force in UP. Although the party is trying to strike an alliance with RLD in western UP, the four-way opposition split with Congress and BJP as marginal force it will be an uphill task for the Nehru-Gandhi scion.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2011 on page no. 1

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