As Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi starts his second leg of Kisan Yatra or Khaat Yatra on Monday, the party hopes to gain grounds in Uttar Pradesh with a promise of “Karz maaf, bijli bill half” slogan which is catching up with the farmers.
The target for the party is simple – it wants to win at least 50 seats in UP this time out of 403 seats because there is a thinking in the party that if Congress wins less than 50 seats, political pundits will raise questions on the revival of the party. And if it can win 50 or above seats, the talks would be about revival and in turn, will help the party in 2019.
With this motto in mind, the focus is back on farmers. Strategically, it suits the Congress as rebuilding the caste coalitions, which formed the stable foundation for the party till regional power took them away, has so far proved to be a Herculean task. The party has projected Sheila Dikshit as the CM face to win upper caste votes, still, there is doubt whether this move will play dividends.
Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishore or PK had recommended the idea of Khaat Sabha where Rahul will have interactions with the farmers. The Khast has made more news than the proposed 2500-km Kisan Yatra, the Congress is moving ahead with its eyes set on the 2019 general election. The upcoming Assembly polls are just a test to see where the Congress stands.
The party had hit a purple patch in 2009 when it won 21 seats and its 18 per cent vote share was the highest in two decades since its fall began in 1989. Insiders describe 2009 victory because of personal votes.
At that time, Beni Prasad Verma was a tall leader of Congress and his influence helped the party to win many seats in those constituencies dominated by Kurmis. Black cat commando Kamal Kishore, whose only claim to fame was his closeness to the Gandhi family, was one of them.
It was also believed that in 2009, the Congress had the then UPA government’s loan waiver scheme and NREGA and these helped in a resurgence of the party. The Congress, however, changed the poll trajectory and joined the caste bandwagon in 2012 Assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls and suffered humiliating defeats.
Now its strategy is farmers again. The thinking in the party is during general elections the focus is on national parties but people prefer regional parties in assembly elections. Probably that’s why Rahul Gandhi targets Narendra Modi in his speeches sparing Samajwadi Party. This is also done with an eye on the possibility of having alliance post-Assembly elections.
“TheCongress would be a party of the ruling dispensation. It is clear that there would be a hung assembly. In that scenario if Congress wins over 50 seats it will play the role of kingmaker,” Prof Manoj Dixit of Lucknow University said.
Rahul Gandhi will embark on the second leg of Yatra from outskirts of Lucknow. The first leg of the Yatra, which started from Deoria on September 6, ended with a grand road show in the Old City area of Lucknow on Friday. During the 16-day long first leg, excluding two days when it was suspended due to Eid, Rahul travelled 2,229 km from Deoria to Lucknow.
Earlier the plan was to cover 1,600 km between Deoria and Lucknow but later a longer route was undertaken due to the demands of Congress workers. “The decision proved beneficial as the Congress vice-president interacted with villagers and was able to understand their plight,” said Congress leader Maroof Khan.
In the first leg, Rahul interacted with farmers in 17 khaat sabhas and held 12 road shows besides addressing more than 500 small public meetings covering across 72 Assembly segments of 27 districts.
During the Yatra, Rahul focused on exposing the Union government’s anti-farmer policies and questioned as to why farmers were being neglected. He made it a point to point out at every meeting that the NDA Government had waived off loans of big industrialists but little was done for waiving off small loans of farmers. Rahul promised to waive off farmers’ loans and halve their power bills if the Congress comes to power in Uttar Pradesh.