Thursday, March 5, 2009

CONGRESS BEGINS BATTLE FOR REVIVAL IN UP

The alliance of the Congress with the Samajwadi Party (SP) is all but over. The former has already announced candidates for 24 seats while the latter has decided to contest 78 seats, leaving just the two constituencies of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The Congress is apparently readying another list of 21 candidates which it will announce in a couple of days, taking its tally to 45 seats. The SP, which was willing to concede no more than 18 seats to the Congress, is willing to go in for "friendly" fights in six seats. But, if the Congress puts up more candidates, that will surely rattle SP supremo Mulayam Yadav.

I have been saying for long that any pre-poll alliance by the Congress with either the SP or the BSP will not be in the interest of the party. Mayawati and Mulayam have, between them, taken away virtually all the traditional voters of the Congress and made the party completely irrelevant in the state. The Congress is never going to improve its base by aligning with either of them. The only way it can retrieve its position is by defeating at least one, if not both of them. And, in the given circumstance, it is only the SP that the Congress can hope to weaken and destroy.

Mulayam Yadav has Prime Ministerial ambitions, as does Mayawati. Had the Congress decided to go ahead and get into a seat sharing arrangement with the former, as conventional wisdom suggested, it would have successfully transferred its voters, no matter how few in number, to the SP, enabling it to get past the post in a number of constituencies where results are going to be decided on wafer-thin margins. The reverse transfer of SP's votes to the Congress would not have happened, possibly by design. The Congress, therefore, would have wound up strengthening Mulayam Yadav while not improving either its electoral performance or its vote share in the home state of its First Family. Those who disagree with this assessment would be surprised to hear that this is exactly what the NCP and Shiv Sena are planning to do in Maharashtra where the NCP has almost finalised its alliance with the Congress. The Shiv Sena will help defeat all Congress candidates so that Maharashtrian strongman Sharad Pawar emerges as a strong PM candidate with his MPs plus those of the Shiv Sena, even though the latter is in alliance with the BJP!

Yes, the Congress, with around 8% vote share in the last Assembly elections is almost non-existent in most parts of UP except Amethi and Rae Bareilly. In fact, its position is getting worse, if the result of the latest by-election to Bhadohi assembly seat is any indication. The SP has wrested that seat from the BSP by less than 6000 votes alright, but what has been largely lost in the fine print is that Congress has got just 2275 votes, around 1% vote share, down sharply from the 5% it had the last time. See the point? In close fights, if the Congress allies with the SP, its votes will prove critical to the latter. But the reverse will not happen for the Congress except in a freak case.

Another interesting aspect of the Bhadohi and previous by-election results is that opinion polls that routinely project the combine of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as India's most popular leaders are either doctored or incorrectly sampled. In UP at least, they have both not only failed to make any impact but have manifestly been rejected completely by the voters. Their influence is now probably limited to the two family constituencies represented by them. In fact, had the SP chosen to field strong candidates against them, they may well have lost there too. Considering the way the wind is blowing in the rest of the state, that possibility still cannot be ruled out.

The Congress party has begun its battle for revival in UP by not entering into an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. That bold decision alone will not change the fortunes of the party for the better. It should be clear to all except bats by now that the Congress will not revive and may not even survive if the baton of leadership is not moved out of the Family decisively into new hands that promise a radical break from the family-centric past of the party. Given how deeply entrenched the hierarchy and mindsets are in the party, that change is not going to come about easily.

If the Congress fares badly in the coming elections, perhaps that process will start. If it still does not, then the Grand Old Party will quickly wither and become just another marginal player on the fringes of India's political landscape.
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Readers may also read:
1. Will the Congress do better without Sonia and Rahul?
2. Maya chal: Advani lal, Sonia behal
3. Congress: From sickle to cycle
4. The real SP that Rahul needs
5. Mayawati and dalit power