Cong More Than Helping Hand
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.