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|September 29, 1999||
Congress confident of putting up a good show in UP
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Despite certain exit polls not giving the Congress much of a chance in Uttar Pradesh, Congress politicians are very confident of doing well in India's electorally most important state. The party is looking at nothing less than 20 seats, maybe even more than 25 along with its ally, Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The Congress has debunked the various exit polls that show its performance in poor light. Not surprisingly, however, it has wholeheartedly welcomed those exit and opinion polls that say the Congress may emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.
In the 1998 election, the Congress won just 8 per cent of the vote and no seats in Uttar Pradesh. The fight then was mainly between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party, with the Bahujan Samaj Party winning a few seats.
But sources said that this time, the four-way fragmentation of votes and the return of Muslim voters would help the Congress. The four main contestants are the BJP, the SP, BSP and Congress, and each has its traditional supporters.
The Muslims constitute almost 20 per cent of Uttar Pradesh's population and are influential in some 30 constituencies. In the 1998 election, most of them had supported the Samajwadi Party.
"If the voters have to choose between just two main parties, one needs at least 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 is sufficient to ensure victory. With the return of the Muslims to the Congress, the party is assured of victory in quite a few constituencies where the Muslims are present is sufficient numbers," said Congress sources in New Delhi.
The sources said most Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are unhappy with the Samajwadi Party for not backing a Congress government after the BJP-led government lost the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a solitary vote. "The fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav's stubbornness allowed the BJP to continue has not gone down well with the Muslims," they said. "Now the Muslims have begun to look favourably upon the Congress once more."
But the Congress has still not made inroads into the votes of other communities, including the scheduled castes and Brahmins, who earlier supported it.
While the scheduled castes have moved to the BSP, the Brahmins continue to back the BJP despite misgivings.
Other factors have also contributed to the Congress's feeling of euphoria. For instance, the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is riven between the upper castes and the other backward classes led by Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. "The disputes within the BJP are only helping the Congress party candidates gain over their rivals," the sources added.
In fact, so bad is the factional feud that Kalyan Singh has stopped campaigning for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. But sidelining him will upset his supporters who are unlikely to participate in the campaign with the same enthusiasm as before, the Congress sources said.
Then there is the anti-incumbency factor and regular complaints of lack of development. In view of this, the Congress decision to field some old faces, who had last contested in 1984, is paying dividends.
"There have been regular complaints that all developmental work since 1989 have come to a 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," explained the sources.
They pointed out that even Amethi had 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 elected Vajpayee three times in a row, feel that development has taken a back seat. "The lack of development is working to the Congress's advantage," they said.
For the Congress, regaining Uttar Pradesh is seen as the key to the party's electoral fortunes in the long term. Towards that end, 20 seats out of 85 is a good beginning!
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