Congress faces a steep climb in UP

The party doesn’t have a spe­cific mes­sage for dif­fer­ent castes

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT -

Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi will ac­com­pany the party’s new gen­eral sec­re­taries in charge of Ut­tar Pradesh (UP), Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia, to Luc­know on Mon­day. While the fact that UP will be cen­tral to de­ter­min­ing the shape of the next govern­ment is

our­take widely ac­cepted, Priyanka Gandhi’s ap­point­ment has thrown up new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Could what was as­sumed to be a straight bipo­lar con­test be­tween the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the grand al­liance of Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP) and Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) turn into a tri­an­gu­lar con­test, with the Congress con­sti­tut­ing the third el­e­ment? If this hap­pens, does the Congress have a se­ri­ous chance of win­ning seats be­yond its strongholds or will it pri­mar­ily ‘cut’ or frag­ment votes? And if it cuts votes, does it eat into the BJP’s vote base or that of the al­liance?

These are not easy ques­tions to an­swer. But it can be rea­son­ably as­sumed that im­pli­ca­tions of the Congress’ pres­ence will play out on a seat-by-seat ba­sis. Its up­per caste can­di­dates could harm the BJP. Its Mus­lim can­di­dates could harm the al­liance. But what would be its larger strat­egy? In an in­ter­view with this paper last week, Rahul Gandhi was re­spect­ful of the al­liance and made it clear that the com­mon en­emy was the BJP. But he claimed that the space for the Congress has opened up. This space, he saw, in mo­bil­is­ing non-dom­i­nant, small com­mu­ni­ties — for the BJP rep­re­sented dom­i­nant (up­per caste) com­mu­ni­ties, SP the dom­i­nant of the OBC com­mu­ni­ties (Ya­davs), and the BSP the dom­i­nant of the Dalit com­mu­ni­ties (Jatavs).

This is an in­ter­est­ing in­sight. But it is also pre­cisely what the BJP did in both 2014 and 2017. It was able to win over large seg­ments of the non-Ya­dav OBCs and non-Jatav Dal­its by speak­ing of their marginal­i­sa­tion. It thus con­structed an al­liance of the most-dom­i­nant up­per castes with some of the poor­est com­mu­ni­ties. It was able to do so with Naren­dra Modi’s ap­peal, changes in or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture, more rep­re­sen­ta­tion to these com­mu­ni­ties and tar­geted mes­sag­ing. Mr Gandhi’s idea has merit. But Congress nei­ther has the or­gan­i­sa­tional depth to reach out to these com­mu­ni­ties nor lead­ers from the non­dom­i­nant castes. It does not have a spe­cific cam­paign mes­sage that takes into ac­count spe­cific griev­ances of these castes. Con­struct­ing a so­cial coali­tion which in­cludes these groups — and win­ning back its own base of Brah­mans, Mus­lims and Dal­its — will be Ms Gandhi’s and Ms Scin­dia’s big­gest chal­lenge.

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