Cong More Than Help­ing Hand

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - Aman Sharma & Va­sudha Venu­gopal


New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Ya­dav may hold a dozen joint road­shows in­clud­ing one on each of the seven days of polling in Ut­tar Pradesh as part of a Congress strat­egy be­ing over­seen by Priyanka Gandhi to make the most of its al­liance­with­thein­cum­ben­tSa­ma­jwadi Party.

The strat­egy en­vis­ages Congress win­ning enough seats so as not to be rel­e­gated to the sta­tus of an ac­ces­sory on the lines of the Shiv Sena in Ma­ha­rash­tra and stop­ping con­sol­i­da­tion of non-Ya­dav votes against the Sa­ma­jwadi Party ow­ing to its patchy record on main­tain­ing law and or­der, se­nior Congress lead­ers told ET.


FRIENDS FOR A CAUSE UP CM Akhilesh Ya­dav with Congress vice pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi at a poll rally last week

se­lected the can­di­dates after a 300page doc­u­ment with a rig­or­ous anal­y­sis of ev­ery seat in UP where Congress ex­ists was placed in front of it two weeks ago. The party has de­cided to fo­cus on 35 seats where it be­lieves it is in a strong po­si­tion.

“If we can per­co­late the al­liance to the ground in Phase 1 and Phase 2 and win about half the seats in Phase 1, there will be no stop­ping us,” a se­niorCon­gresslead­er­said,stressin­gon the im­por­tance of the first phase of polling on Fe­bru­ary 11, when 73 seats in western UP go to the polls. “Post Phase 4, the al­liance is very strong – it can­winal­most140outof the194seats in the last four phases. Phase 3 in­cludes SP’s Ya­dav belt. The fight is


only with the BJP.”

Priyanka Gandhi is keenly mi­cro­manag­ing the cam­paign and try­ing to sort out is­sues in con­stituen­cies where both Congress and SP have strong can­di­dates, Congress lead­ers said. In Gau­ri­g­anj, for in­stance, she en­sured that Congress can­di­date Mo­hammed Naim is not de­nied a ticket. “She is in­sis­tent that no Congress loy­al­ist is de­nied a ticket or up­rooted from their con­stituency,” a leader said. Along with her mother and party pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi, Priyanka may not cam­paign even in the fam­ily pocket bor­oughs of Rae Bareli and Ame­thi in this elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to party lead­ers, who said the Gandhi sib­lings, Ghu­lam Nabi Azad and strate­gist Prashant Kishor are cen­tral to the Congress cam­paign.

While Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Ya­dav have held two road­shows in Luc­know and Agra, the next one is slated for Varanasi on Fe­bru­ary 11. “The plan is to have a joint road­show in an­other part of UP on ev­ery day of polling in the state. One could be around Deo­ria, where Rahul started his Kisan Ya­tra,” an­other Congress leader said. “Be­sides, sev­eral joint ral­lies are planned, such as in Kan­pur on Sun­day.”

In­ter­est­ingly,whileCon­gress­can­di­dates have re­quested Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav to cam­paign for them in their con­stituen­cies, the SP can­di­dates have not asked for Congress star cam­paign­ers.


This is the case even as SP lead­ers said the tie-up with the Congress has helped the party in western UP where Mus­lims and youth are now ready­to­back­theal­liance.“Congress, un­like SP, has pres­ence in many con­stituen­cies in western UP. With the par­ties com­ing to­gether, we feel their sup­port. This was ev­i­dent dur­ing Agra road­show,” an SP leader said.

A Congress leader said SP is grap­pling with the per­cep­tion that it did not do enough to main­tain law and or­der in the state, an is­sue on which Rahul Gandhi too has been “sub­tly crit­i­cal” of the SP of late. “Law and or­der is an is­sue in UP and go­ing against SP. Congress knows that very well and the fact that BJP will do well in cities. Our big role is to stop po­lar­i­sa­tion of non-Ya­dav vot­ersinBJP’sfavour–thi­siswhySP has shown a ‘big heart’ and given us 103 seats to con­test,” the Congress leader said. “There is na­tional ac­cep­tance, sec­u­lar and sta­ble gov­er­nance that Congress brings with its name. Vot­ers must know that.”

An­other Congress leader said the mid­dle-run lead­ers in the party are not too happy with the al­liance be­cause they know SP is the dom­i­nant part­ner and Con­gress­won’thave much of a share in gov­er­nance if the al­liance wins. None­the­less the party re­alises the crit­i­cal need for the al­liance. “Akhilesh wants the al­liance for the 2Ms – mi­nori­ties and me­dia – whil e Cong re s s wants it for sur­vival, to re­gain its lost vote share in UP,” a Con­gresslead­er­said.“Theal­lian­ceis for Akhilesh to get the fruits of his work and for the Congress to find its roots back in UP.”

Congress lead­ers said both the ben­e­fits of the al­liance and the chal­lenges it faces are ev­i­dent in Meerut. “In Meerut (South) where Haji Yakoob Qureshi was tipped to be a run­away win­ner for BSP is now, post the al­liance, fac­ing a tough fight from a rookie 38-year-old Mohd Azad Saifi of Congress. Saifi would not have got even 5,000 votes ear­lier,” a Congress leader said, claim­ing the BSP lost the plot­inUP­due­toits“tac­ti­calmis­take” of go­ing only for Mus­lim votes. In Meerut(City),on­theother­hand,BJP vet­eran Laxmikant Ba­j­pai is re­mind­ing vot­ers of re­cent mur­ders of traders in the city in a bid to romp home.

Mean­while, Congress is busy putting up posters of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Ya­dav across the state with the slo­gan ‘UP ko yeh saath pasand hai (UP ap­proves of this tie-up)’. “We will out­num­ber BJP’s hoard­ings like in Bi­har and put up more hoard­ings than 3,500-odd put up by BJP in UP,” a party leader said.

There was much back and forth be­tween the two part­ners on the new logo which had Congress colours on top and SP colours on the bot­tom, but a bal­ance was struck by putting Akhilesh’s picture in the fore­ground and Rahul’s slightly in the back­ground. “The logic for SP colours be­ing at the base of the logo is that SP is the foun­da­tion of the al­liance. Rahul’s picture is the back­ground as he is in a sup­port­ing role to Akhilesh, who is the face,” a Congress leader said.

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