Lucknow: If ever there was a weakest link for the Congress, it is in Uttar Pradesh that sends the largest number of members to the Lok Sabha.
The weakness of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh lies within the party and it is the apathy of the leaders – not the voters – that has brought the party to its nadir.
Ever since Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took over as in-charge of the state Congress in 2019, the party has slid down with alarming regularity.
The Congress could win only the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in 2019 from where Sonia Gandhi was elected and in 2022, the party posted its most dismal performance and won only two assembly seats in a House of 403.
The recently held municipal elections saw the Congress recording a further dip in its vote share.
Compared to a 3.7 per cent share in the 2017 municipal polls, the Congress could secure merely 2.1 per cent votes this time.
Even as the party’s fortunes continue to nosedive, there is no effort on the part of the party leadership to, at least, even discuss the causes of the failures.
The state unit of the Congress celebrated its Karnataka win but did not find time to ponder over its humiliating defeat in UP.
Congress UP party president Brijlal Khabri, when asked, said, “We will work with double the energy in the Lok Sabha polls and improve our performance.”
The Congress in Uttar Pradesh now remains largely divided into two parts – one that comprises veteran party leaders and has been completely sidelined by Priyanka and the other, that is leading the Congress and comprises BSP turncoats.
“All key posts in the UPCC are being held by BSP turncoats — Brijlal Khabri, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Nakul Dubey, Anil Yadav and the genuine Congress workers have no say in the party,” said a senior leader.
Congressmen blame Priyanka Gandhi’s confidant Sandeep Singh and his aides for driving loyal party leaders out of the party.
Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Brijlal Khabri operates with his own group of sycophants that also include Sandeep Singh loyalists.
“We now exist in a tiny island with each of the new leaders having his own group. They are not concerned about the Congress and its future, they want to secure their own future,” said a former spokesperson.
What is shocking is that Priyanka Gandhi has not visited Lucknow, or Uttar Pradesh, since June last year and her apparent lack of interest in the state Congress is further decimating the party.
The only strength of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh is that it still has a group of loyal partymen in every district. Though most of them have been expelled by Priyanka’s aides, they continue to bat for the party.
“We have been Congressmen since the beginning of our careers. We may have been expelled but we will not join any other party. This is our home and we will stay here even if the doors have been shut,” said an expelled leader.
The Congress leadership can still make an effort to call back these party leaders and seek their help in building up the organisation but one thing is sure — none of them will accept the supremacy of Priyanka’s coterie.
The Congress, ironically, has an opportunity in UP because neither the SP nor the BSP have been able to build themselves up as a strong and viable opposition to the ruling BJP.
Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, after successive failures, lacks the ability to counter the BJP strategy while Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati has lost her core vote bank and also the drive to tear into the ruling alliance.
The Congress can emerge as an alternative but for that the party strategists and the high command will have to work at the grassroot level to first, get the party’s act together, and then instil confidence in its supporters.
The Congress, in 2017, had upset its own apple cart at the last minute by striking an alliance with the SP and this left its cadres disillusioned.
“Neta tumhara, jhanda hamara, nahin chalega,” said a party worker.
The Congress urgently needs to win back at least one of its three core vote banks – be it Muslims or Dalits or Brahmins – and the other two will follow.
The Congress, however, cannot decide whether it wants to play the Hindu card or reach out to Muslims.
And till it takes a decision, its future in 2024 will remain undecided in UP.
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