OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

In a broadside against the Congress establishment during late Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure Rahul Gandhi on Monday claimed that the Babri Masjid would not have been demolished had the Gandhi family been active in politics at that time. In an apparent attack on Samajwadi party and BSP, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday said dependence of these parties on single personalities hits Uttar Pradesh’s progress. Rahul Gandhi today kicked off the Congress’ campaign to revive its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh ahead of upcoming Assembly polls. Rahul Gandhi unveiled what he called a ‘new vision’ to build a ‘golden future’ for UP. He also said that the alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party in 1996 was a mistake.

Rahul Gandhi is to cover 32 constituencies, none of which have a strong Cong presence in the belt. Offstumped examines the impact Rahul Gandhi might likely have on the Congress fortunes.

But first some historical perspective as the young Gandhi made some tall claims today. Three of the most significant moments in the build upto the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid had occurred when a Nehru-Gandhi was the Prime Minister. The `implanting of the idols of Ramachandraji in the Babri Masjid’ on the night of December 22-23, 1949, when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister; the removal of the locks that had been placed on the gates to the `disputed structure’ on February 1, 1986 when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister; and the Shilanyas on November 9, 1989, with Rajiv Gandhi still Prime Minister. It is also important to remind the young Gandhi that the Gandhi complicity in stoking the Hindu vote bank as a balancing act to the Muslim vote bank cannot be wished away. After giving in to Muslim fundamentalism on the Shah Bano case, the Rajiv Gandhi Government was keen on playing the “Hindu card” with Rajiv Gandhi’s Minister for Wakf, Rajindra Kumari Bajpai, advising Muslims to “take recourse to law and not to create disturbance.”

The Young Gandhi also seems to have completely forgotten how the Congress itself had reduced both the Party and National Governance for decades to a “single personality show”. That to this day the Congress does not have a true grass roots national leadership to boot and continues to rely entirely on the Nehru-Gandhi brand name makes the young Gandhi’s claims all the more hollow. To claim that the Babri demolition would not have occurred if a Gandhi was in power and then in the same breath to criticize single personality politics demonstrates yet again the political naivety of the young Gandhi.

So what chance does the Young Gandhi really have for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh ?

Well the new vision that the young Gandhi has been selling appears to be more dream than reality. Short on specifics and high on superlatives the young Gandhi’s only panacea to UP’s ills is “Mamma” – errr confused, well according to the young Gandhi more than 40 per cent of the state’s funds came from the Centre. With the Centre being ruled by proxy by his “Mamma”, the young Gandhi held out the carrot of throwing more moolah at Uttar Pradesh at the tax payer’s expense. Not to be outdone by the euphoria State Congress chief Mr Salman Khursheed said it was high time that Uttar Pradesh connected “itself to the powerhouse called the UPA which is providing energy to the whole country”. Going by how the UPA has providing energy to the BJP from Mumbai to Punjab to Uttarakhand Mr. Kursheed may very well be right.

Does the Congress really have a chance in UP ?

In the 2002 assembly elections the congress won 25 seats with a 9% vote share and a majority of its candidates forfeiting deposits. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections which saw a low voter turnout of 48% in UP, the congress won in only 9 Lok Sabha seats but then the BJP won only 10 seats. But then the devil is in the details, the BJP’s vote share was 22% in UP while the Congress had a vote share of only 12%. So the BJP did poorly in converting votes to seats in comparison. The Congress may have peaked in its upswing in UP from 9% to 12% between 2002 and 2004. Unless the Young Gandhi has a dramatic impact on voter turnout the Congress chances of a significant improvement are likely to be slim. However the Congress may end up kingmaker depending on how fragmented the final tally turnsout to be. So it maybe a win-win for the Young Gandhi after all.

Offstumped Bottomline: Young Gandhi suffers from the Gandhi syndrome as much as “Mamma” Gandhi. Combining a mediocre sense of history with abundance of political naivety, the young Gandhi makes for some refreshing novelty in a campaign dotted by tired and retired veterans and banal behenjis. Whether he shores up Congress fortunes or not, the young Gandhi has definitely raised personal stakes by taking on the Congress campaign in UP on his shoulders. Even a marginally improved performance by him should see an awful lot of superlative spin in the media, beware BJP !

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