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
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
"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
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
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
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
He said if the Congress does well, it would enhance Gandhi's
March 6, when the votes will be counted, will show if his efforts
have borne fruit.
(Prashant Sood can be
contacted at email@example.com)