MEHRU JAFFER | 16 FEBRUARY, 2019
LUCKNOW: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, 47 conquered countless hearts during her recent visit to Lucknow. However it is not certain how this open display of admiration for the charismatic Congress Party general secretary in charge of waking up 41 Lok Sabha constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) to their electoral responsibility, will translate into votes in the coming elections.
“Priyanka ji’s visit to Lucknow is a huge morale boost for Congress workers,” said Congress legislature Aradhana Mishra, the 44 year old daughter of Pramod Tiwari, veteran Congress leader and nine time member of the UP Legislative Assembly from Rampur Khas in Pratapgarh.
When asked what next for the Congress Party in UP, Mishra told The Citizen that workers have returned home determined to work hard to win the 2019 elections.
While in Lucknow, Priyanka Gandhi the grand daughter of former prime minister Indira Gandhi spoke less and mostly listened to workers talk about their problems and aspirations. She took copious notes during the face to face meet with delegations from 41 constituencies of eastern UP that is also one of the most backward areas of the state. Each delegation came in groups of often 100 people.
Every group had one hour to air concerns to Priyanka Gandhi, making the exercise continue till the wee hours of the morning and reminding those who still remember the janta durbar held regularly by Jawaharlal Nehru, country’s first prime minister and Indira Gandhi to address grievances of ordinary citizens.
Workers who met Priyanka Gandhi told The Citizen that she did not speak much but when she did, she called upon the workers to fight the coming Lok Sabha elections tooth and nail.
“The meeting with Priyanka ji has helped us overcome inertia,” said Dr. Neelam Mishra, 59 and who is head of the District Congress Committee, Bhadohi. Neelam Mishra has already applied for a ticket to contest the next Lok Sabha election and is the only female president of a district Congress Committee. Over 100 Congress supporters had accompanied Mishra to Lucknow whose turn to meet Priyanka Gandhi came at 3.30 am on 15 February.
When asked, if Brahmins like herself are happiest at being led to the polls under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi also from an upper caste family, Mishra from Bhadohi said that yes all of us are very happy. Under the dynamic and secular leadership of Priyanka Gandhi, she hopes to see party workers from different walks of life cast aside personal differences and unite.
For decades the State Congress Committee has been riddled with groupism and Congressmen here are engaged in a silent war with each other over leadership of the party. The result is confusion amongst grass root workers who have been directionless and inactive for decades.
Bhadohi is a center of the largest hand woven carpet industry in the country since the 16th century. Today carpet manufacturing engages millions of rural artisans in Bhadohi and whose earnings took a hit after demonitisation of the rupee in 2016. The district is situated in the plains of the Ganges River and farmers here face ground water problems, and talk of numerous other agriculture related troubles.
To address problems on the ground and to revive the Congress Party that has been in limbo in UP for more than two decades, is a tough job for Priyanka Gandhi in the absence of strong organisational support.
Today there is not one Congressman of the calibre of Madan Mohan Malviya, Govind Balabh Pant, Kamlapathi Tripathi, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, ND Tiwari or VP Singh who were all grass root leaders. Once the Youth Congress founded in 1960 was a formidable force in UP but it exists now only in name.
The National Congress Party had groomed freedom fighters and female politicians like Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, Swaroop Kumari Bakshi and Mohsina Kidwai in the past. Today the women’s wing of the party is a pale shadow of the relationship it had once enjoyed with society. Not a single name of a Muslim Congress leader of the status of Rafi Ahmad Kidwai who was from UP comes to mind today.
The main support to the Congress Party in the past came from upper caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims. According to Suman Gupta, editor Jan Morcha, the loss of the Congress Party over the years has been the gain of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Gupta looks upon the Congress Party, the SP and the BSP as natural rivals.
The SP and the BSP were born after defeat the Congress Party at the polls in UP. Any grand alliance between the Congress Party, SP and BSP may help to defeat the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) for the moment but after that what? It will be difficult for the SP, BSP and the Congress Party to come to any understanding in running the state together in the future.
Rajiv Bakshi, newly appointed media head of the UP Congress Party said that the party is prepared to go to the polls alone in alliance with smaller parties like the Mahan Dal.
The BJP's march to electoral victories has come after it was able to take votes of the upper caste away from the Congress Party. Muslims lost trust in the Congress Party as well and scattered their precious mandate in different directions amongst different political parties. The mistake that Muslim voters made in 2017, points out an analyst was to allow their vote to be divided between different parties.
The attitude of the Muslim voter before the 2014 elections was what can BJP do to us? It is only after having ensured a sweeping win by default for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections that Muslims have woken up to all the harm that the BJP is capable of inflicting upon the community.
“I will vote for any party that is anti BJP, and for the politician who is strong enough to defeat the BJP this time,” said a young visitor who came to greet Priyanka Gandhi at the Congress Party office here.
There is a strong feeling that in 2019, Muslims must vote for one party to be able to together defeat the BJP.
While no strategy to woo Muslim votes back to the Congress Party has been disclosed, Priyanka Gandhi did announce an electoral alliance between the Congress Party and the Mahan Dal led by Keshav Dal Maurya. The Congress Party hopes to get the support of backward castes of the Shakya, Kushwaha and Maurya voters in western UP at least.
During her recent visit to Lucknow Priyanka Gandhi said that she welcomed Keshav Maurya ji as a Congress Party ally.
“We will fight the elections jointly. Rahul ji has given us the task of creating a political atmosphere in which everyone is taken along and all sections of society are represented. Together we will fight the elections with full might,” Priyanka Gandhi said.
Standing beside Priyanka Gandhi at Lucknow’s Mall Avenue UP Congress Committee office also known as Nehru Bhawan, Maurya added that the Congress Party has always recognised the rights of Dalits and backward castes. The Congress Party is the only political party that takes all Indians along with it.
The herculean task before the Congress Party is to woo back into its fold all those Indians who have lost faith in its performance. Today the Congress Party needs the votes of the upper castes. To reclaim its status as a political party of substance, the Congress Party needs to bring home some more votes of the backwards, Dalits and Muslims that are split between the SP, BSP and BJP.
Mission impossible? You bet!