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Will Rahul lift the Congress in UP?

 | February 7, 2012

Rahul’s focus is not on leading the Congress or becoming the Prime Minister but to revamp the party in Uttar Pradesh, says his sister.

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Whatever anybody may say, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections starting on Feb 8 are not only a test for the scam-tainted Congress, but are also widely seen as a defining moment for party president Sonia Gandhi’s son, Rahul.

Rahul Gandhi, youngish at 41, has campaigned hard in Uttar Pradesh, whose importance lies in the huge number of members it sends to Parliament. The campaign ended yesterday.

Pitted most notably against the Congress is the Bahujan Samaj Party, headed by the dynamic Dalit leader and present Chief Minister of the state, Mayawati. Also in the poll fray are the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Congress looks at the outcome of the elections as some sort of do-or-die battle, given the battering the party’s public image has taken in recent times. The ugly Commonwealth and the 2 G telecom spectrum corruption cases have sullied the reputation of many leaders, both in the Congress and among its allies at the federal level.

More importantly, the Uttar Pradesh polls can well be a laboratory where Rahul tests his popular appeal. He has literally criss-crossed the entire state in the past 12 months or so, with “high voltage campaign” trying hard to win back the Congress charisma.

(After all Uttar Pradesh is the state where Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister and Rahul’s great grandfather, came from. The state, particularly Rae Bareli and Amethi, have always been considered the home of the Congress, with the party’s key players contesting elections from there.)

However, Rahul’s younger sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (whose striking resemblance to Indira Gandhi — erstwhile Prime Minister, Nehru’s daughter and mother of Rajiv, Rahul’s father — has often been a factor in her being viewed as the one who would eventually take over the Congress and the prime ministerial seat) has pooh-poohed the link between the poll result and Rahul’s political integrity.

At one election rally that Priyanka addressed, she said Rahul’s focus was not on leading the Congress or becoming the Prime Minister. His aim was to revamp the party in Uttar Pradesh.

Admittedly, Rahul did not accept the offer of a Cabinet position from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said he wanted to continue working for the party.

Rahul in Blunderland

But Rahul has not been successful in this role. His plan to promote young candidates in Bihar and Kerala in the 2010 elections did not augur well with voters.

His role during the recent Anna Hazare crisis in New Delhi (when the fasting leader attracted thousands of supporters causing a huge headache to the ruling Congress coalition) was described as “underwhelming”. Apparently, he disappeared from New Delhi.

And when he actually intervened on another occasion, he came to grief. He accused the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh of murdering villagers for their land. The charge turned out to be untrue. The daily newspaper, The Hindu, termed it “Rahul in Blunderland”.

Despite all this, Rahul will mostly likely replace his mother, Sonia, as the Congress president. For, the Congress firmly believes in dynastic politics. So what if India is in the 21st century!

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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