For years, Congress workers in Uttar Pradesh have complained to the party high-command that the senior leadership in the state, including MPs and Union Ministers were increasingly “unapproachable”. However, their complaints went largely unheeded until the party lost badly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning only 2 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state from Rae Bareli and Amethi.
As the UP assembly elections draw near, this is a mistake that the Congress high-command is trying rectify by keeping its senior leaders, many in their 60s, on their toes with two separate “yatras”—the the first being the one featuring CM candidate Sheila Dikshit and UP Congress President Raj Babbar. The second will see Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi undertake a month long “maha padyatra” across UP reaching out to farmers.
Like every other strategy of the Congress in UP at present, the focus of this yatra is to have one-on-one interactions with the public — especially farmers — and remind them of schemes introduced by the Congress-led UPA government like loan waivers which benefitted UP.
The party also wants to suggest that there would be more such schemes if the Congress comes anywhere close to forming the government in UP next year. With the announcement of elections still months away, the party is focusing mainly on “meeting, interacting and reaching out”.
The party seems to have learned other lessons from the past. One of them is that holding large scale public meetings of a popular leader like Rahul Gandhi in every district does not necessarily lead to an increase in vote share or the number of seats won in the elections. Rahul Gandhi had covered over 100 assembly constituencies in 2011-12 , holding big rallies everywhere but the Congress won only 28 out of 403 assembly constituencies.
“Then the problem was that he would come in on a chopper or SUV, address the public and leave, occasionally shaking hands with people but there was hardly any interaction. So the public came out to see him in large numbers but it did not translate into votes,’’ explained a senior party leader. “This time, he will walk with them, hold small interactive meetings, listen to issues that farmers want political parties to address.”
While the party has done its “homework” on probable candidates based on at least four to five reports submitted from different sources including an independent agency, AICC General Secretary Madhusudan Mistry, AICC appointed observers and also the team of poll strategist Prashant Kishor, it does not seem to be in a hurry to announce them. The reason is that probable candidates have been asked to first prove their worth by pulling in supporters for the current party programmes.
When AICC General Secretary in charge of the state, Ghulam Nabi Azad was in Lucknow last he had pointed out that the party would keep up its activities without a break till the polls.
Sources say that Rahul’s involvement in the UP campaign would not end with this yatra. He, alongwith senior leaders, is expected to reach out to as many sections of the public as possible, asking them to share their problems and promising to address those issue in the party’s manifesto.
Party leaders feel that the current initiatives have at least got the public and other parties to sit up and take notice of the Congress in UP. “Ab hum baat cheet mein to ane lage hain” said a party leader.