UP: Does Prashant Kishore face a Sisyphean challenge?
By hiring Prashant Kishore, the Congress party has indicated to all and sundry that it is taking the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections quite seriously
Pradeep Kapoor Delhi
The Congress party wants to create an upheaval in the political landscape in Uttar Pradesh. Rumours suggest that Priyanka Gandhi will be nominated as the chief ministerial candidate by the party in its bid to regain power in the state. The grand old party has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh since 1990. The man who has been put in charge of the proposed disruption is Prashant Kishore, the architect of Nitish Kumar’s victory in the Bihar Assembly elections.
On his two visits to Lucknow, Kishore has hit the ground running, wasting no time in getting the party out of its inertia. Holding meeting after meeting with district and city presidents, senior office-bearers and frontal organisations at the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters, he has signalled his intentions to revamp the party clearly. To do this, he has started putting structures in place which will help the party become more decentralised over time. The BJP will be the main opposition in the state according to the campaign strategist. He has relegated regional parties such as the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and the Samajwadi Party as secondary players in government formation.
In an attempt to revitalise the chances of the Congress, Kishore has enlisted the help of office-bearers from the districts. These party members will have to identify 20 workers in each Assembly constituency who will not seek party tickets but dedicate themselves to improving the electoral fortunes of the party. They will be salaried employees of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Further, these nominated 20 will then choose 10 workers each who will help improve the party’s chances at the booth level. The aim of this exercise is to help consolidate the party machinery at the lowest level.
Fully aware of the deep social cleavages in the state, each district officer has been asked for the caste makeup of the constituency along with the details of previous MLAs and MPs from their constituencies. They have also been asked to identify prospective candidates from their areas for these polls.
Kishore has emphasised that he aims to get Muslim and Harijan voters back to the Congress fold. The electorally powerful Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh deserted the Congress and shifted allegiance to the BJP after the shilanyas during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. Similarly, the Muslims too left the Congress and went to the Samajwadi Party when Mulayam Singh Yadav opened fire to protect the Babri Masjid against marauders. The Harijans abandoned the Congress when they were won over by BSP founder Kanshi Ram who said only his party could empower the Dalits.
Veteran Congress leader Amir Haider told Hardnews that he had written to the party high command that UP partymen wanted Priyanka as the party’s face. Haider said he had conveyed the feelings of other Congress workers that the party should join hands with smaller outfits through alliances to prevent a split in votes. Even after the repeated pep talks by Kishore, who is facing the Sisyphean challenge of rebuilding the Congress in the state, Congress leaders who are serious claimants for the chief ministerial candidature still want a seat-sharing alliance with the SP or BSP to improve the chances of electoral success. The biggest challenge before Kishore, then, is to persuade Congress leaders and workers that they can win the Assembly elections in 2017 on their own.
Another big challenge is to control the infighting and bickering in the party which was reflected in the open fight between two rival factions in his presence when he visited Varanasi. The party units are divided into various sub-groups and ticket distribution will aggravate the crisis with those denied tickets working steadfastly to get the official candidate defeated.
During the last Assembly polls in 2012, the Congress, which carried out a whirlwind campaign in the state under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, could increase its tally from six seats to 28, but managed to increase its vote share by only 3.03 per cent. In summation, Kishore faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career so far.