Beyond pledges and tall promises: The X-factor Congress needs to regain lost ground in UP elections

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Updated: November 26, 2021 2:45 PM

A gamut of experts believes that while the promises are good for optics, Congress lacks the most crucial element a party needs to win elections - an energised and dedicated cadre.

As of early November this year, opinion polls have predicted a clean sweep for the BJP, and handed the Congress not more than 10 seats in the 403-member legislative assembly.

The promises and pledges by the Congress in the run-up to the Uttar Pradresh assembly elections have been successful in setting it apart from the others. That, however, may be the only thing that it has succeeded to achieve, so suggest opinion polls that defy Congress’ hopes of regaining the ground it lost in 1989, the last time it was in power in the politically-crucial state. Pledges such as free mobile, scooty, Rs 25,000 financial assistance and 40 per cent tickets for women candidates among other eye-catching promises part of its first-ever women’s manifesto strike the right chord. Sadly, all that would only matter if the Congress actually ends up winning elections.

A gamut of experts believes that while the promises are good for optics, Congress lacks the most crucial element a party needs to win elections – an energised and dedicated cadre that can take these promises to the people and have the conviction to convince the electorate about its intent. As of early November this year, opinion polls have predicted a clean sweep for the BJP, and handed the Congress not more than 10 seats in the 403-member legislative assembly. The party won 7 seats in the 2017 polls.

The Congress party, which continues to be optimistic of a victory on the back of Priyanka Gandhi’s attempts to re-energise the party rank and file, and has pinned its hope on three things – the farmers’ movement, COVID-19 pandemic and poll promises. But can it prove opinion polls wrong and ensure victory? The Congress certainly believes so. “Priyanka Gandhi ji has started a new politics by reserving 40 percent of seats for women, which is a very brave step. She has been among the people and understands their sentiments. Our aim is not only to win seats and come to power. Other parties do politics of caste, community and equations. We want to break that and bring a fundamental change in the politics of the country by bringing women into mainstream politics as they have been deprived of it,” Congress Secretary Tauquir Alam, who has been assigned Uttar Pradesh by the party high-command, told FinancialExpress.com.

Alam said that the party has promised only those things that it believes it can deliver and will take its pledges to every nook and corner of the state.

“There are many other issues, many people lost their jobs during the Corona period, they were hit financially, we will give Rs 25,000 to those families. See, we did not promise Rs 15 lakh, we are only promising what we can deliver. We are taking our pledges to the people – through yatras, through street meetings, we will organise camps and take it to everyone. You will get to see its result. In November, we are also going to hold a rally regarding these pledges. I am in Muzaffarnagar now and can see that people are becoming more aware. We have promised mobile phones and scooty to empower women and these promises are not only on paper. We will prove it by meeting our promises,” he said.

Alam’s optimism, however, needs a reality check. Prof. Shashi Kant Pandey, Head of the Political Science department at Lucknow-based Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University said that while the Congress has worked on its cadre and may even see an uptick in its vote share, one should not expect any dramatic change. Pandey argues that the efforts by the Congress are not unique. “All parties do it at the time of polls. They have made some declarations like reserving seats for women etc but amid all these things, one thing that matters is whether you have grassroots workers to take your pledges to the public. They are able to mobilise crowds. Priyanka Gandhi is definitely making efforts in this direction. Be it Hathras or Nishad issues or strengthening the party, Priyanka has been doing it in the past. She has tried to usher in life in the party which was on the verge of decline. Their cadre is definitely excited now but how much it converts into seats, it is for all to wait and watch. Maybe, their percentage of votes may increase…but I don’t think a dramatic change will happen,” said Prof Pandey.

Prof Pandey said that Congress made these promises because it knows that it’s not coming to power. “All the series of welfare measures they are announcing depends on how convincing they are. One party (BJP) is in power and another party that is challenging it is Samajwadi Party. A probability is associated with it because it was in power and may come to power. So, if you see, these parties are avoiding making any lucrative offers. Congress knows it very well that it is not coming to power so they can make announcements,” he said.

The Congress party has seen a steady decline in its vote base – Brahmin, Dalit and Muslims. This stands in contrast to the BJP or SP, who do have a sizable vote base intact. “Congress will give tickets to Brahmins, it is focussing on Dalits, it is trying to grab Mayawati’s vote bank, people get happy as Priyanka goes and talks to them, but voters have been aligned on different lines….The Congress cadre lacks enthusiasm….There are things where the Congress is struggling now. But they have worked on their organisation, they have taken out Pratigya Yatra, Priyanka’s rallies are attracting crowds, but how much of it will translate into seats? There may be a straight fight between the BJP and the SP while BSP may get further weakened….The Muslim votes that the BSP was getting may get polarized in favour of the Samajwadi Party.”

With the BSP and Samajwadi Party wooing Brahmins and having their separate vote bank of Dalits and Yadavs respectively, the Congress will have to bring more than mere pledges to the table to meet its optimism.

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