As polling moves from western to eastern Uttar Pradesh, the fight is set to get triangular with the Congress fielding its time-tested candidates in 14 of the 54 Lok Sabha seats.
The constituencies where the Congress is engaged in a fight-to-the-finish are Lakhimpuri Kheri, Unnao, Farrukhabad, Kanpur, Dhaurahra, Rae Bareli, Amethi, Barabanki, Faizabad, Sultanpur, Sitapur, Bahraich, Kushi Nagar and Mirzapur. Four of these seats voted in the fourth phase on April 29.
Elections to the remaining 41 seats will be held in the next three phases.
These constituencies, along with Saharanpur and Fatehpur Sikri in the west, had become the bone of contention between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance during their pre-poll seat-sharing talks.
Congress leaders, who requested not to be named, reveal that the party is banking on these 14 seats as Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Raj Babbar in Fatehpur Sikri and Imran Masood in Saharanpur are caught in rough weather.
Both Fatehpur Sikri and Saharanpur went to the polls in the first two phases.
Ironically, while Congress candidates – Jafar Ali Naqvi (Kheri), Annu Tandon (Unnao), Salman Khursheed (Farrukhabad) and Sri Prakash Jaiswal (Kanpur) – turned the contest triangular (on April 29 ), their victories are in question despite Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra giving a boost to campaigning in three seats, barring Farrukhabad.
Tandon maintained a rapport with the people of the constituency (Unnao) she won in 2009 but lost to Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Sakshi Maharaj in 2014, with Arun Shankar Shukla of the SP being the runner-up. In the 2009 polls, Shukla was the BSP nominee and in the ensuing polls, he is the alliance candidate.
Interestingly, the three of them are once again locked in a tough battle, with the Congress and the alliance cutting into each other’s votes in Unnao, a Brahmin-dominated constituency.
WHAT BRINGS CONG INTO THE CONTEST?
The Congress had won 21 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the highest in recent times. The Congress has repeated 14 of the 21 winners of 2009, and the son and daughter of two others — PL Punia’s son Tanuj Punia in Barabanki and Supriya Srinet, daughter of late Harshwardhan Singh, in Maharajganj.
Two of the 2009 winners, Jagdambika Pal and Beni Prasad Verma, have since moved to the BJP and SP respectively, with the former re-contesting from his stronghold, Domariyaganj.
Two leaders have been dropped to accommodate defectors — Savitribai Phule, who quit the BJP ahead of the polls, has replaced Kamal Kishore in Bahraich; Shiv Saran Kushwaha, who quit the SP, has replaced Pradeep Kumar Jain in Jhansi. Dhirendra Pratap Singh, former BSP MLA is a turncoat, who first joined the SP and then moved to the Congress and is its nominee from Shravasti.
The 2009 winner, Vinay Kumar, has been moved to Kaiserganj.
The Congress’s 2009 performance had not come as a miracle. The personalities, not the party, had won these seats — somewhat akin to the ongoing elections in which voters are supporting Narendra Modi and not the candidate or the party.
Some Congress winners had then said, “We won our seat for two reasons – loan waiver by the Manmohan Singh government and the network of support that we and our families have built over the years.”
However, a decade later, they have found some semblance of support from party cadres galvanised by Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics even as Rahul Gandhi’s much-touted Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) replaces Manmohan Singh’s loan waiver that was counted as a major reason for the renaissance of the party in 2009.
However, there is a difference. Nyay is a promise as of now, while in 2009, the loan waiver promise had been delivered.
CAN CONG REPEAT 2009?
The Congress may sound confident about the remaining phases of the elections for the simple reason that Modi’s 2014 wave has receded. But, according to BJP supporters both in west and east UP, the wave that was on the surface in 2014 has now turned into an undercurrent.
Moreover, the challenge from DMY (Dalit-Muslim-Yadav) is as strong as from the BJP’s combine of Brahmins, Rajputs and most backward castes, other than the Yadavs. Both the warring groups have done their social engineering.
Thus, RPN Singh (Kushi Nagar), Jitin Prasada (Dhaurahra) Nirmal Khatri (Faizabad), Sanjay Singh (Sultanpur), and Ratna Singh (Pratapgarh) cannot ignore the fact that the BJP and the alliance are also vying for their seats in a three-cornered battle. How the castes will vote is not easy to predict.
Prof Harsh Sinha of Deen Dayal Upadhyay University explains the mood in Gorakhpur division: “Barring Kushi Nagar from where RPN Singh is in the fray, the battle is majorly between BJP and the alliance. BJP has the advantage of well-oiled organisational machinery and immense popularity of Modi while alliance is pure arithmetic. Initially, RPN Singh was flying high but his trusted lieutenant Nathuni Prasad Kushwaha joined SP and is now the alliance nominee.”
Going by popularity of a candidate, there should be no reason for Jitin Prasada to lose from Dhaurahra. He is more popular than BJP’s sitting MP Rekha Verma. Even while he was contemplating changing his constituency, his supporters had pressured him to contest from here.
But alliance candidate Arshad Ahmed Siddiqui is giving him the jitters, though he may be locked in a direct battle with Modi. The common refrain is, “We are not voting for Verma but Modi.”
In this challenging scenario, Congress candidates struggle to pick a few seats riding on their own groundwork and Priyanka Gandhi’s charisma. In these 14-odd constituencies, people do accept the Congress presence in the fray.
It’s here where hope lies for the party preparing the foundation for the 2022 electoral battle.