Congress: Raising revival hopes
The electorate is fed up with caste politics played by most parties as well as their culture of corruption and patronage to criminals
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow
This election, Congress' prospects look brighter in Uttar Pradesh. There is a general feeling in UP that the Congress will increase its vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, Congress secured 12 per cent votes and nine seats. This time, influential candidates are reaping benefits of the general goodwill for the party. But, weaker candidates are likely to suffer due to the absence of organisational network of the party.
Voters, who have chosen BJP's Atal Behari Vajpayee in successive elections, seem to be veering towards the Congress this time. Take for instance, 65-year-old Sulochna Devi in Lucknow. She has voted for Vajpayee since 1991. But, this time she has other plans. When she heard that the Congress has fielded Rita Bahuguna as its candidate from Lucknow, she decided to vote for her.
Businessman, Rajbir Singh, 40, too, has decided to choose the Congress over other parties this time. Speaking to Hardnews, he said he was fed up with caste politics in which most parties indulged as he was with corruption and patronage to criminals by the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Also, the performance of the BJP-led NDA regime at the Centre and previous governments in the state have been disappointing, to say the least.
On the contrary, Singh was much impressed by the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh. He felt the UPA had a moderate outlook, talked about development and had worked for all sections of the society. So, the Congress was the best bet for him because he wanted to see a stable government with a national perspective rather than a front of regional parties with parochial outlook at the Centre.
Ibne Hasan is 74 years old now. He withdrew from active politics way back in 1980. He had been with the Communist party and Congress, too. After a long hiatus of 29 years, he has decided not only to make a comeback but also campaign for Rita Bahuguna in Lucknow. Hasan feels she is the best candidate Lucknow can send to Parliament. In fact, he had worked with her father HN Bahuguna, who had been UP chief minister. He believes time is ripe for the revival of Congress in UP, where it ruled till 1989.
Hasan told Hardnews that the Congress was no longer untouchable to Muslims as far as the Babri Masjid demolition is concerned. He believed the SP and its leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, will lose Muslim support for joining forces with Kalyan Singh, held directly responsible for the demolition. So, the Congress could capitalise on this, he added.
While touring extensively in the run-up to the elections, this correspondent found a tremendous amount of goodwill for the Congress all across UP. That is evident from the fact that in more than 30 constituencies Congress party candidates are locked in a straight fight.
And, it's not just Muslims but also Brahmins and other castes returning to the Congress after a long gap.
Former judge, Haider Abbas, who was earlier the Lok Ayukta in Uttaranchal also felt that the Congress was on the revival path and that Muslims were also returning to the party as they are fed up with SP and BSP. His revival hopes for the Congress find echo in Dr Ramesh Dixit, professor of political science in Lucknow University and a political commentator.
Dixit said that people of UP were frustrated with the caste politics of SP and BSP. He, too, cited the disenchantment among the public over large-scale corruption by top leaders of these parties as is evident from CBI cases and lawsuits against them.
"In the garb of caste politics, these parties have criminalised politics and promoted unscrupulous corporate interests. During the regimes of both the SP and the BSP, only a handful of corporate leaders were promoted," Dixit observed. In sharp contrast to these leaders stood Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. People were quite satisfied with the manner they conducted themselves during the last five years.
"In UP, people want the Congress to rule at the Centre as they believe it would pave the way for development. They see the Congress as the best alternative now," felt Dixit. But, he also had a word of caution for the Congress. According to him, the Congress should remain secular and adopt Left of Centre policies to enjoy widespread support.
SM Nasim, former director-general (vigilance) of the UP police and current secretary of the Forum for Peace and Unity, too, harboured revival hopes for the Congress not only in UP but also in Bihar. He felt the Congress would increase its number of seats in these two states as people were fed up with BSP, SP and RJD, especially the way these parties supported criminals in the name of caste politics. He blamed these parties for ignoring the development of the state in the last 20 years.
The social engineering by BSP supremo Mayawati through the Dalit-Brahmin combination was under pressure and already wilting. During the recent by-elections in Bhadoi, Brahmins did not vote for the BSP candidate who lost to his SP opponent. In the last assembly polls, BSP had won Bhadoi.
Yet, this time Mayawati has given maximum number of tickets to Brahmin candidates to gamble on the social engineering plank once again. But, on the ground, Brahmins feel their expectations were not met. They even said that in case of help, they found it extremely difficult to meet Satish Chandra Mishra, Mayawati's Brahmin mascot and second-in- command.
Political analysts felt that once Muslims returned to Congress, Brahmins would soon follow suit. Brahmins had been a traditional vote bank of the Congress since Independence. But, they shifted to the BJP during the Ram Janambhoomi movement. In 2007, Mayawati succeeded in wooing them through social engineering. But, a section of the Brahmins may still go with the BJP.