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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 44, New Delhi, October 16, 2021

Priyanka is yet to motivate her leaders to stand by the poor and Dalits of Uttar Pradesh | Arun Srivastava

Friday 15 October 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Priyanka Gandhi is using all her might to rejuvenate the party rank and file and make them to take the BJP head on. During recent years Priyanka has built strong case against the Yogi government but ironically the state leaders of the party have miserably failed to take the struggles to its logical end and establish a strong connect with Dalits and harijans, those who really matter in UP politics. People recall how the victims of Sonbhadra, where tribal people were killed for land, Unnao and Hathras are yet to get justice. In fact Priyanka had observed; “People wanted justice in each case. But there is no scope for justice under this regime.” The Congress lacks fighter leaders with a vision.

It is not enough that Priyanka has courage and determination. What is most important is the Congress must connect with the people at the lower level. Recently I happen to meet an old acquaintance. In 1969 he was an employee of Calcutta Port Trust. But having keen interest in politics, he had joined the Congress. During those years the Congress was fighting for survival and the vanguards were the Chhatra Parishad and Yuva Congress. His hard work paid him and he was made the joint secretary of Yuva congress of his ward in Kidderpore.

After his retirement from the job he went back to his native place in Pratapgarh in UP. He kept his association for some time with the local Congress leaders. But soon he got disenchanted with their behaviour. The Congress leaders mostly belonging to upper castes nursed abhorrence towards Dalits. Since he himself was a Dalit, he realised the pinch of this humiliation. He said the state leaders never visited the Dalit ghettos.

It is not sure whether Priyanka would force the leaders to change their approach and attitude towards the Dalits and harijans. Though the Dalits have lost their trust in Mayawati, still she remains their hope. Dalit youth leader Chandra Shekhar Azad is yet to make his presence felt. Dalits of UP desire to assert their identity, but they are unable to comprehend as to how could this be done. The BJP has been exploiting this confusion by promoting the local Dalit leaders. Dalits of UP are in a precarious situation. They are sure that the BVJP government would not provide them any succour, yet they have no alternative but to support it as they had done in 2017.

With Mamata Banerjee getting ready for a major intervention in the national politics and project her Trinmool Congress as the only genuine Congress organisation, Rahul Gandhi has become proactive and working tirelessly to present the Indian National Congress, the grand old party, as the only alternate to the BJP. But the fact is he has not succeeded in motivating the Congress leaders to establish strong bond with the poor and Dalit.

While Priyanka has been leading one-person army, the BJP has seriously launched the exercise to win the assembly election in 2022. BJP will hold 20 ’Samajik Samelans’ (social seminars) of various OBC sub-castes which will be addressed by senior leaders, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya and Union ministers Pradhan and Bhupender Yadav," These programmes are being organised to win over different castes such as Kashyap, Rajbhar, Pal, Prajapati, Jogi, Teli, Yadav, Gujjar, Saini, Chaurasia and Kurmi. "In the last phase, the party will organise 202 OBC rallies, a rally each in two assembly constituencies. These rallies again will be of one sub-caste and they will be addressed mainly by the party leader from that caste," Kashyap said. The party’s SC morcha is also exploring the idea of holding ’Ansuchit Jati Sammelans’ (seminars of Schedule Castes) in 75 districts across the state, sources in the party said.

The BJP has adopted a multi-pronged strategy of wooing OBCs and SCs by holding caste-specific rallies. It has also formed teams of party workers to reach out to Dalits and Harijans. RSS has deployed its leading intellectuals and academics to unfasten the caste dynamics. While the Congress has an acute shortage of trained cadres to man the polling booths, the BJP has already started deputing the poll in charges. Dharmendra Pradhan, who himself hails from the OBC category is heading the mission. The main focus of the BJP is on the Dalits and OBCs. It plans to hold a three-phase outreach programme for OBCs.

At the Kisan Nyay rally in Varanasi held only a couple of days back, Priyanka was projected as the Congress’s face for UP Assembly elections 2022. She was projected as the lone crusader for justice. Other leaders were dismissed as opportunists. The task before the Congress is to sustain this mission. No doubt this would be a utopian task. Already the Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who was accused by Congress of surrendering to the BJP’s coercive politics has moved to the war zone.

Both the leaders vying for the top slot has not come as surprise. But it cannot be denied that Congress faces serious odds. While the TMC has emerged as an ideological challenger to the BJP, the Congress continues to swing around the personalities of Rahul and Priyanka. The Congress has not succeeded in identifying its social and political base. This is the major factor even while Priyanka has launched an aggressive movement against the BJP and Yogi, the Congress leaders in UP continue to switch over their loyalty to the Samajwadi Party. It obviously implies that her aggressive campaign has not aroused the level of confidence of the common Congress men.

In fact the manner in which Yogi Government handled the arrest of Priyanka while she was on way to Lakhimpur Khiri, has sparked rumours in the political circle that her delay in release was meant to send a message to the people that she was more sincere to Akhilesh Yadav of SP. The BJP leadership was indulging in the game of one-upmanship. It wanted to erode the base of SP. It also implied that BJP feared the SP more than the Congress.

Though the incident was the most gruesome and heinous crime that has taken place in recent years, even the Congressmen feel that the Dalits and OBC did not show their concern and came out openly to condemn the BJP. They do not support the BJP but nurse apathetic attitude towards the Congress. They behaved more like passive spectators. Even the farmers waited for the directives of their farm leaders. The village pradhans and headmen confess that Priyanka has succeeded in attracting the attention of the people, it is still in the nebulous state and cannot help Congress to emerge as the ruler. In the last election, the party had managed to get 8 per cent of votes. This time the observers and party activist it may improve it to 10 nor 12 per cent.

On the contrary by winning 216 seats in the assembly elections, Mamata has succeeded in sending the strong and loud message that it is the only party which can unify the Congressmen and act as vanguard to fight the BJP. Significantly this notion is shared by some senior national Congress leaders. They also hold the view that Mamata’s challenge to BJP has a strong ideological line. She has targeted the RSS and in fact during the assembly elections, she had exposed the cultural degeneration of the RSS and BJP.

Yet another important factor has been inability of the Congress to pursue the policy of the Congress System. Till some year back the GOP of India has been following the policy of Congress System but now it has divorced this strategy. Congress has ceased to be the political umbrella for different shades of opinion which had one common unifying ideal of nationalism and secularism. In the process what has suffered most is the party’s political strategy to hold together the views and interests of other parties.

It is ironic that the political system of the country is witnessing the withering of the ecosystem. As a result of this while, secularism has become the most hated object, the binary of the arrogant and contrived nationalism, the variant of Hindutva, prevailing over the real nationalism. This nationalism based on the idea and view Hindu supremacist has a majoritarian orientation.

For RSS this is the most appropriate time to spread. There is nothing pariah for it. After Modi coming to power, the RSS claims to be the most ardent believer in Constitution. But it was the same organ that had found fault with the Constitution and objected to the Constitution because, as an editorial in Organiser pointed out, it was alien to the Manusmriti.

The Indian political institution is witnessing the worst phase of its existence. The only mission of the RSS has been to grab the power. To accomplish its mission it can resort to any political action. Obviously, the Congress cannot feel content at the immense peoples’ response to Priyanka’s show in UP, post Lakhimpur Khiri incident. It cannot be denied that the peoples’ anger would die down after some time and the Congress will be back to its old position.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor was all set to join the Congress. But it was the reluctance of the leadership to bring about fundamental changes that made him backtrack. According to him the party needed to work on eradicating the “deep-rooted problems and structural weakness’. These two have wider implications. Since it was not tenable, Kishor has no alternative but to develop cold feet. Kishor has been prophetic in his assertion that those aspiring for a revival of the Congress based on its Lakhimpur Kheri intervention are setting themselves up for a big disappointment. Yet another factor that discouraged Kishor from joining Congress has been Rahul’s reluctance to respect his talent. He was of the opinion that Kishor should join the party as a worker instead of taking up the challenge of campaign management, the task he does the best. In fact aides of Rahul are not willing to work with him.

Priyanka was under illegal detention at the PAC compound in Sitapur, no notice or FIR was provided to her even after her 38-hour detention and she was not even allowed to meet her legal counsel. But shockingly the Congress leaders of the state did not hit the streets in large numbers and make the people rally behind her in large numbers. What does this apathy imply?

It is not the dynastic politics that has ruined the Congress, instead, the party has suffered a massive loss of credibility due to the culture of high command dictating the working and functioning. The recent rebellion by 23 senior leaders is testimony to this fact. These leaders have been pointing the wrong policy decisions of the High Command. Instead of taking steps to mend its way, the leadership blamed them for working at the behest of some forces inimical to the Congress. It is unfortunate that the members of the High Command are treated as the wisest leaders.

No political party is in greater danger of being destroyed by its ‘high command’ than the Congress. It is not the seasoned leaders but Sonia Gandhi’s children who make political decisions now. Neither of them has shown the ability to win state or general elections for their party either on their own steam or because of the charisma of the family name, but they are today more powerful than any other leaders in our oldest political party. It was they who decided, one fine morning, that the Chief Minister of Punjab was a liability and had to go.

Last week, Kanhaiya Kumar joined the Congress. Already upper caste leaders have started opposing him. It is not clear that a party that has lost its Dalit and OBC base in Bihar and UP would be able to use Kanhaiya to entice them. Kanhaiya knows that his “Left” image would be a liability. After a bunch of young leaders left Congress the High Command is looking towards Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar to give it a new dimension. A Dalit leader, Mevani, 41, first emerged along with Hardik and Alpesh Thakore as the youth face challenging the BJP dominance in Gujarat during the 2017 Assembly elections.

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