Faced with “grim prospects” in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress is mulling fresh strategies to invigorate its organisation. Based on the recommendations of election consultant Prashant Kishor, say Congress insiders, the party may change the entire top leadership in the state next month, with a young or known face as the head of the organisation.
Besides that, some Congress workers working with Kishor have said that the party will focus on the upper castes, non-Jatav Dalits and the Muslims to match up to the caste equations of rival parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.
A member of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee coordinating with Kishor said that the Congress will appoint a Brahmin or Rajput to replace current UP Congress chief Nirmal Khatri.
“Young leader Jitin Prasada, UP veteran Pramod Tiwari and former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit have figured as likely candidates to head the organisation in the state. All of them are from the Brahmin community. Among the Rajputs, Dr Sanjay Singh and Akhilesh Pratap Singh may be considered. Anugrah Narayan Singh, a Rajput and two-time MLA, can be the leader of the party in the Assembly. The names of R.P.N. Singh and Pannalal Punia are also doing the rounds for the post of state election in-charge. Senior Muslim leader Saleem Sherwani may also be given a key post to woo the Muslims,” he said.
But he made it clear that the final decision will be taken by the high command in New Delhi and that any “surprise” may also be in store. A national spokesperson of the party also confirmed that the party is taking the election very seriously and that a surprise choice may be made in selection of the state leadership.
He also added that in order to woo Brahmins and Vaishya voters, the party will organise sammelans (gatherings) of both these communities in different cities of the state. “Brahmin samaj sammelans will be held in eastern UP as this region has the maximum concentration of Brahmins in the state,” he said.
Last week, Congress chose Deepak Singh, a Rajput, as its lone choice for Member of the Legislative Council, indicating the party’s decision to bet on the upper caste electorate in the upcoming elections.
Overall, UP has around 25% upper caste votes. Among these, 11% are Brahmins, 7% are Rajputs, 2% are Kayasthas and 5% are Vaishyas. Besides that, around 18-20% are Muslims in the state.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Congress had focused on this combination, securing 21 seats. It was the party’s best performance in the state in recent years.
J.P. Singh, a UP Congress member, said that among the Dalits, the party’s focus is on the non-Jatav Dalits like Pasis etc.
“Jatavs are BSP’s almost immovable vote base. Pasis have been supporting the Congress and thus the party will try to retain them,” he said.
Talking about the party’s possible poll strategies, which are being developed under the guidance of Prashant Kishor, Congress’ spokesperson Atul Chaturvedi said that Kishor’s team is touring various districts and collecting information about the booth-level scenario. “They are collecting feedback of all booth-level office bearers of the party to know the mood of the people and discussing ways to win confidence of the voters. There is also said to be a plan to increase the booth-level work force. They are targeting to make a 1.5 lakh strong force of dedicated workers before the announcement of the candidates in late August,” said Chaturvedi.
While all other parties in the state have started finalising their candidates, Congress is yet to make the list of its probables.
Kubool Ahmad, a Hindi journalist from Rae Bareli, has recently toured districts like Rae Bareli, Amethi and Pratapgarh and even interacted with Congress workers coordinating with Kishor’s team. He sees very dim prospects for the party.
“In 2012, Congress won 28 seats. But today, the party will not even garner a two-digit number. Except for Lalganj constituency in Pratapgarh, I cannot recall the name of any other seat which Congress can win easily. Even in the ‘Gandhi constituencies’ Rae Bareli and Amethi, Congress only seems to be fighting and not winning. And if they don’t work really hard, the party will finish in the single digit in the entire state. After Delhi, Congress may vanish from UP as well,” he said.