The War-Room Blues

tsi_05may2016_31Reduced to a paltry figure of 44 MPs after the 2014 Elections, the Congress party aspires to become a key player in the formation of government in UP, something on the lines of what it did in Bihar.

On a lighter vein, insiders maintain that to counter the Mulayam-Maya-Modi (MMM) factor, the Congress wants to bring in its own troika of Pandit-PK-Priyanka (PPP) into play. The primary goal remains stopping BJP in its tracks towards ‘Mission 265’, and thereby paving the way for Rahul Gandhi to become PM someday in the foreseeable future.

As far as the party structure is concerned, the Congress in the state is in a shambles as it has been out of power since 1989. If that was not enough, factionalism is rife inside the party. There are too many leaders and too few cadres in the party. Those who were worried about their future, like Naresh Agrawal, left the party for greener pastures. Those who were comfortable in their stature never allowed the second rung of leadership to develop or come of age. Through master strategist Prashant Koshore, the party is looking for those cadres and voters who identify with the ideology of the party. Dedicated workers are in acute shortage and Kishore is finding it tough to muster up enough numbers.

For example, he had asked for 20 dedicated workers each from every District President; however, they failed miserably in most of the districts. Kishore needs these people for implementing the election strategy and manning social media fronts. One can imagine that if the party cannot bring in enough people for managing the social media front, how will it manage over 140,000 booths when the state goes to polls. In contrast, BJP has already selected over 1,20,000 cadres for booth management. There’s a  perception building that it is Kishore who is fighting elections on behalf of the Congress. This, however, is not going down well with the traditionalists who see him merely as a glorified advertiser. But since Rahul Gandhi has come to trust him, the others have no option but to follow without fretting about it. According to the strategy, relevant issues pegging Awadh, Bundelkhand, Rohelkhand, Western and Eastern UP will be discussed separately and then individual strategies will be formed based on these inputs.

Development devoid of biases will be our plank

RPN Singh, Former Cabinet Minister, Congress

tsi_05may2016_32Uttar Pradesh, which was once a relatively developed state, is now among the languishing ones. To what extent is Congress responsible for this?

No big project has been realised in the past 26 years in UP. Whatever infrastructure you see here i.e roads, power supply, canals, everything has been done by the previous Congress governments. After that, UP got stuck in caste and religion based politics. Parties like SP and BSP, who don’t give two hoots about law and order or development, have continued to ruin the state. We sent lots of funds during UPA I and UPA II, but the funds were put under the non-development heads and were wasted. How will UP develop under such circumstances?

But it was during Congress’ rule that the factories in Eastern UP were shut down forever, including fertiliser factories in Gorakhpur and sugar mills everywhere else…

We tried to revive these during UPA II and actually came up with an assessment report. But we lost the election and the government that followed us did not follow up. As far as sugar mills are concerned, most of them were private mills, and were beyond our direct control.

What will be the agenda against the state government?

“Development untouched by caste and religion biases,” is our main plank. The policies of the central government are for all to see. The farmers’ suicide rate is on the rise, while Vijay Mallya runs away with public money. In the assembly election too, our main plank would be development.

How’s the alliance with JD (U) coming up?

We are positive about this. We decided to align with smaller parties rather than going with SP or BSP in order to defeat BJP. An alliance like we had in Bihar is in the offing.

You don’t seem to have a Chief Ministerial face in UP…

We are not in such a bad shape, trust me. We have a tradition of electing the Chief Minister through our elected MLAs. But if the need arises, the party high-command will take the decision.

Kishore is also of the belief that Congress should try and attract Brahmin votes, something which is in significantly large numbers in UP. He also suggests that Priyanka Gandhi should be brought to active politics. Political pundits maintain that if Congress mends its ways, starts understanding the ground reality and follows the strategy laid out by Kishore, it might find itself on the heels of BJP in the state after all. Congress bagged 28 seats by securing 11.63 percent votes in the last polls. Needless to say, there is a vast scope for improvement.

“SP-BSP are indulging exclusively in backward caste politics. This has left an opening for us. If we follow an effective electoral strategy, we will win the election,” maintains senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari.

Kishore’s stature among the party leaders and cadres is like a de facto supremo. In fact, he is doing for Congress what Om Mathur is doing for BJP. However, technically speaking, this was the duty that should have been originally given to the Secretary in-charge for the state, Madhusudan Mistri. This bypassing of the chain of command has not gone down well with traditionalist Congressmen. Kishore is known to ask tough, fundamental questions, which the party leaders and cadres are unable to reply to.

Kishore’s track record has been exemplary till now. He has been given a war-room in Delhi, while in the state he has the full mandate of Rahul Gandhi. He is roaming through the length and breadth of the state and is being welcomed by local leaders, albeit not very warmly. His approach is very scientific and he has demanded a conducive environment to implement his strategy. This is a tough task when cadres are not sufficiently trained. While he has Nitish’s face and Lalu’s vote bank to rely upon in Bihar, UP is a very different ball game. The allies are no better. Ajit Singh has lost much of his base but still insists on projecting his son as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Why would the Congress, being the dominant partner, agree to such a thing is beyond imagination. “Who will vote for the alliance in the name of Jayant Cahudhary,” quips Pramod Tiwari, who is also preparing quietly to project himself as a possible CM candidate.
These teething problems remain to be solved before the alliance can take shape. Nitish Kumar might have some acceptability among all the allies but that would not be enough to iron out the differences. It will take weeks if not months before things settle down. These crucial weeks will be utilised by Kishore in formulating and implementing his strategy. The result, however, is anyone’s guess.