By Prashant Sood
New Delhi, (IANS) He’s addressed 85 rallies, trying to go beyond just rhetoric by introducing a weaver boy or invoking a success story like tech guru Sam Pitroda’s to keep the interest going. But will Rahul Gandhi’s high-pitched campaign go beyond mere charisma and actually bring in votes for a sagging Congress in Uttar Pradesh?
That’s a question Congress members are asking one another as India’s ruling party attempts to claw its way upwards from the poor fourth slot it managed in the 2008 elections, winning just 22 of the 403 seats.
A lot of hope is riding on Gandhi, 41, the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The party general secretary is spearheading Congress efforts to emerge as a major contender for power in the staggered battle from Feb 8 to March 3. The country’s most populous state sends 80 MPs to parliament.
For the Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 1989, the fight is intense with the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP)being in the battle for power.
Analysts said it will not be easy for the party to make dramatic gains in the absence of a strong organisational base.
“I don’t see a landslide (for Congress) in the absence of organisational backup compared to parties such as the BSP and SP,” Aswini K. Ray, former political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.
In his view, Rahul Gandhi had worked hard, but the Congress lacked a strong grassroots structure that could transform support to votes.
According to analyst Subrata Mukherjee, the polity in Uttar Pradesh was fractured and the best bet for the Congress would be to retain the second slot it achieved in the 2009 parliamentary polls when it won 21 seats.
Mukherjee, a former professor at Delhi University, said a party getting less than 20 percent of vote share may not be able to make much headway in terms of seats. “The Congress is unlikely to get that far,” he said.
Congress leaders admit the prognosis is grim but are hopeful that Rahul Gandhi will help the party make a significant electoral dent.
“We had gone weak in Uttar Pradesh as political parties mobilised people on community lines. But we are not weak now as we are getting the support of all sections,” claimed Congress MP Raashid Alvi.
A senior Congress leader told IANS that the party expects to win at least 80 seats. Apart from youth, the party expected sizeable support from Muslims, upper castes, section of Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs, he said.
The Congress has tied up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Leaders said that Rahul Gandhi was involved in an extensive and intense campaign.
Rahul Gandhi introduced a weaver boy, Mohammad Faizan, from a podium at Azamgarh to drive home a point about the central government expediting a Rs.6,000 crore package. At another venue, he invoked Sam Pitroda (a vishwakarma by caste) as a posterboy of most backward classes (MBCs).
He has also been relentlessly attacking the BSP for corruption and taking on the SP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Gandhi scion has also been visiting Dalit homes, interacting with students, protesting land acquisition, and taking up the emotive theme of people from the state being forced to work outside.
It is seen as an effort to regain the ground lost due to the rise in caste and religious polarisation that eroded its traditional support among Dalits, upper caste and Muslims.
The concerted campaign had made people more responsive to the Congress, said Rizwan Qaiser, associate history professor at Jamia Millia Islamia.
He said if the Congress does well, it would enhance Gandhi’s stature.
March 6, when the votes will be counted, will show if his efforts have borne fruit.