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Battle 2012: Congress throws down gauntlet from Nehru bastion

Monday November 14, 2011 12:23:48 AM, Prashant Sood, IANS

New Delhi: That the road to New Delhi passes through Uttar Pradesh is accepted political wisdom. But what about the road to the state itself? Rahul Gandhi is hoping the answer would be Phulpur - a move that has the Congress' rivals keeping a hawk's eye.

With polls to the 403-member state assembly a few months away, and rising clamour for the Congress general secretary to assume a national role, the Gandhi scion will Monday roll out the party campaign from the constituency once represented by his grandfather and the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The stakes are high for political parties in the country's most populous state, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and is viewed as an indicator for which party will rule at the centre.

Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders say Gandhi's Phulpur rally in Allahabad district, to be attended by union ministers hailing from the state and other party leaders, reflects the party's thrust on politics of "values and issues".

State Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh said policies followed by Nehru are being practised by other parties as well.

"Non-Congress governments have not been able to change his policies. He had foresight and vision," Singh told IANS.

Gandhi is widely seen to be poised for a bigger role in the Congress and good performance in Uttar Pradesh could help the party in negating opposition barbs about dynastic transition.

Congress has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for the past 22 years.

Efforts at revival have been led by Gandhi, the 41-year-old MP from Amethi, who has made numerous visits to the state, going to the homes of Dalits and the underprivileged and interacting with varsity students.

He had also gone on a march in western Uttar Pradesh earlier this year after an agitation by farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul against the state government's land acquisition policies.

The Congress is also boosting its prospects by stitching up an alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). Party sources said the talks between the two parties were at an advanced stage.

Chief Minister Mayawati, who was apparently surprised by the good show by Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when it bagged 21 seats in the state, has directed much of her attack at Gandhi, terming him a "yuvraj (prince)".

"Instead of expressing his anger here, it would be better if he vented his ire at the Congress-led central government for its failure to contain inflation and adopting a step-motherly treatment towards the development of the state," the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo said at a function Saturday.

She is also striving to woo upper castes, who are believed to have shifted their loyalty away from her party. Mayawati, whose BSP came to power with a majority in 2007, has taken action against her ministers indicted on graft charges to send a message about her being strict on the issue of corruption and is also wooing farmers.

She is also guarding against attempts by Congress and Samajwadi Party to attract minorities.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its performance in Uttar Pradesh will influence its chances of making a comeback in the 2014 general elections.

The BJP, whose campaign does not appear to have picked up so far, is involving its national leaders. While party chief Nitin Gadkari would address a rally at Ayodhya Nov 17 on the culmination of yatras carried out by Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh against corruption in Uttar Pradesh, party veteran L.K. Advani's Jan Chetna Yatra will also pass through the state before its culmination in Delhi Nov 20.

The party is expecting to reap dividends of anti-corruption sentiment among people in the wake of scams faced by United Progressive Alliance and Mayawati government. The venue of rally at Ayodhya is being seen as a subtle message to its Hindutva supporters.

Samajwadi Party MP Akhilesh Yadav had embarked on yatras across the state and the party is keen to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor against Mayawati government.

Party leaders said the campaign by Akhilesh, son of former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, has helped the party attract young voters and enthused the cadre. The party has also sought to woo minorities by demanding reservation for them in accordance with the recommendations of some of the panels set up by the central government.

Samajwadi Party, which is the main opposition in the state, has decided to approach the Election Commission to demand that assembly elections should be held in February.

For the moment though, all eyes are on Phulpur from where the battle royale kicks off Monday.







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