At a time when the Congress is considering an electoral understanding with the BSP in the 2014 polls, Rahul Gandhi’s critical remarks about Mayawati has left party leaders confused. Anita Katyal reports
Just days after he created a stir by publicly denouncing the ordinance on convicted legislators, the Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s critical remarks about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has left partymen confused.
As Rahul Gandhi continues to spring surprises, an exasperated Congress rank and file is trying hard to read their leader’s mind.
The question doing the rounds in Congress circles is, what does Rahul Gandhi really want and, more importantly, does he know what he wants.
Addressing a national awareness camp on scheduled caste empowerment on Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi lashed out at Mayawati saying she was not permitting the growth of Dalit leadership.
“In the second stage of the Dalit movement, the production of leaders stopped, Mayawatiji has captured the leadership and she does not let people come up," said Rahul Gandhi.
"Though it is her personal choice, it is a great time for the Congress party which has a history of working for Dalits," he said promising party will have Dalit leaders from the panchayat to the legislative level.
Rahul Gandhi’s remarks come at a time when there is a growing view in the Congress that it should have an electoral understanding with the BSP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There was an unwritten code in the Congress not to criticise the BSP.
With the Samajwadi Party sliding in Uttar Pradesh, Congress strategists believe it should tie-up with Mayawati to check the Bharatiya Janata Party which is fast gaining ground in the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
With virtually no presence in UP, the Congress is not in a position to challenge any party. It has lost its traditional support base of upper castes, Dalits and minorities to regional players. The BSP has usurped the Dalit vote while the SP has weaned the minorities.
Although the Congress did manage to win 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, it could best be described as a flash in the pan, as there is no possibility of a repeat performance. It is imperative for the Congress to enter into an understanding, either overtly or covertly, with a powerful regional outfit in UP to stop the BJP in its tracks.
The Congress had so far been constrained to do a balancing act with the SP and the BSP, as both parties extend crucial outside support to the United Progressive Alliance government.
As the 2014 general election draws closer, the Congress is keen to distance itself from the SP which has become increasingly unpopular with the electorate. The recent Muzaffarnagar riots, preceded by a spate of communal incidents over the past year have seriously eroded its credibility.
The polarisation of the polity in Uttar Pradesh has led to the revival of the BJP which has been playing the Hindu/temple card to improve its footprint. The Jat community in Western UP, known for its loyalty to Ajit-Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal have shifted their loyalties to the BJP after the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Given the fast-changing dynamics, Congress leaders started targeting the SP after the riots but maintained a studied silence with regard to the BSP even though its revival in UP has been effectively stymied by Mayawati’s unshaken hold over the Dalit vote.
But Rahul Gandhi’s dig at Mayawati appears to have sent the party into a tailspin. Party cadres are left wondering if this is a cue for the others to hit out at the BSP or should they continue to target the SP.
Ever since Rahul Gandhi criticised the ordinance on convicted lawmakers, which ultimately led to its withdrawal, Congress leaders as well as ministers are not sure how their decisions and views will be received.
The party is crying out for clarity which is not forthcoming given the lack of communication between the leadership and the cadres. Everybody is left to second-guess the leadership’s views.
Rahul Gandhi’s loyalists, especially the second generation leaders, are quick to come to his defence as witnessed after the ordinance drama. On his remarks about Mayawati, they pointed out that it is not the first time Rahul Gandhi has made such an observation. His “ekla chalo” line is essentially aimed at reviving the party’s traditional support base in Uttar Pradesh even though he has failed in these efforts, they say.
It is said that Rahul Gandhi had spoken in the same vein while speaking at a programme organised by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes over a month ago. "You ask in UP for five Dalit leaders and the answer you will hear is Mayawati, Mayawati, Mayawati, Mayawati and Mayawati... I want that there should be a queue of leaders at all levels, in UP, Delhi, at block levels, in villages,” he had said.