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|September 30, 1999||
Congress sure of winning 20 UP seats
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Despite certain exit polls not giving the Congress much of a chance in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leaders are extremely confident of the party doing well in India's electorally most important state. The party is looking at nothing less than about 20 seats, and even at more than 25 seats along with its election partner, Ajit Singh's Lok Dal.
The Congress has debunked the various exit polls that show the party's performance in poor light. However, and not surprisingly, the party has wholeheartedly welcomed those exit and opinion polls that claim that the Congress might emerge as the largest party in the Lok Sabha.
In the 1998 election in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress won only eight per cent of the vote and did not win a single seat. The fight then was mainly between the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Samajwadi Party, with the Bahujan Samaj Party winning a few seats.
However, sources said that this time, the four-way fragmentation of votes and the return of the Muslim voters would help the Congress.
Muslims constitute around 20 per cent of Uttar Pradesh's population, and are influential in around 30 constituencies. In the last elections of 1998, most Muslims supported the Samajwadi Party.
"If the voters have to chose between just two main parties, one needs 40 per cent of the votes to win. In a three-way contest the winner needs at least 30 per cent, but in a four-way contest, even 25 per cent of the votes is sufficient to ensure victory. With the return of the Muslims to the Congress, the party is assured of a victory in quite a few constituencies where the Muslims are present is sufficient numbers," said Congress sources in New Delhi.
The sources added that most Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are unhappy with the Samajwadi Party for not backing a Congress government after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was defeated in a no-confidence motion by one vote.
"The fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav's stubbornness allowed the BJP to continue has not gone down well with the Muslims," said the sources, adding, "now the Muslims have begun to look favourably at the party once more."
However, the Congress has still not made inroads into the votes of the other communities, including that of the scheduled castes and the brahmins, who earlier supported the Congress. While the scheduled castes have moved to the BSP, the brahmins continue to back the BJP despite misgivings.
Other factors too have contributed to the Congress's feeling of euphoria. For instance, the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is riven between the upper castes on one side and the other backward classes, led by Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, on the other.
"The disputes within the BJP are only helping the Congress party candidates gain over the rivals," the sources added.
In fact, so bad is the factional feud that Kalyan Singh has stopped campaigning for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. However, sidelining him will upset his supporters who are unlikely to participate in the electoral campaign with the same enthusiasm as they had earlier, claim Congress sources.
Then there is also the anti-incumbency factor and the regular complaints of the lack of development. And this time, the Congress decision to field some old faces who had last contested in 1984 is paying dividends.
"There have been regular complaints that all development work after the 1984 election has come to a complete halt. That all the other parties have done little and that only the Congress did some work for the state. Hence, a desire to vote for those very people who had represented the constituency from 1984 to 1989," said Congress sources.
The sources pointed out that even Amethi has seen no progress since 1989 when the Congress was voted out. And though the Congress did return to power in 1991, the feeling was that Uttar Pradesh was neglected.
The sources pointed out that even the people of Lucknow, which has sent back Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, feel that development has taken a back seat. "The lack of development is working to the Congress's advantage," said the sources.
For the Congress, regaining Uttar Pradesh is seen as the key to the party's electoral fortunes. Winning 20 seats out of 85 is a good start!
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