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Beni Prasad Verma's cronyism may cost Rahul dear

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: February 08, 2012 07:37 IST
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Has Rahul Gandhi relied too much on Beni Prasad Verma?

Congressmen allege Verma has ignored loyal Congressmen and given tickets to his cronies for the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh election on Wednesday.

Sheela Bhatt reports from Lucknow.

Wednesday's election for 55 assembly seats in ten districts in central Uttar Pradesh and a part of the Terai region will be the first big test for Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's campaign to win the state.

Rahul gave Union minister Beni Prasad Verma, who made his reputation in the region when he was active in the Samajwadi Party before shifting his loyalty to the Congress, the freedom to select candidates for more than 25 of these 55 seats.

Rahul's extensive surveys and his own understanding has been that if the Congress can win Kurmi and Muslim votes in these areas, it will be a big advantage for the party. Rahul backed Verma, a Kurmi, completely.

As a sign of his influence, Verma was appointed a Cabinet minister and a member of the powerful Congress Working Committee.

But matters don't seem to have gone as planned. Congress leaders in UP feel Rahul has been too generous with Verma. As a result, the party now confronts a mutiny-of-sorts from loyalist Congressmen.

While Rahul gave Verma the freedom to choose candidates who could get the Congress Kurmi and Muslim votes, Congress leaders allege the minister ignored loyal Congressmen and gave tickets to his cronies, many of who were with him in the Samajwadi Party.

Around 17.1 million voters will cast their votes at 17,621 polling stations on Wednesday. More than 30,000 policemen and 40,000 home guards will provide security to voters.

This phase of the assemby election include more than 500 sensitive polling booths in Balrampur, Faizabad, Sitapur, Bahriach, Gonda and Ambedkarnagar.

The area has abundant water, making it predominantly an agricultural region. Farmers here are divided on caste lines and know where their interests lie. Political awareness among the Kurmis and Muslims is high.

The ten districts going to the polls include Sitapur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ambedkarnagar, Gonda and Bahraich.

In Sitapur, Gonda and Barabanki, Verma is seen by Congressmen as an "Samajwadi Party leader." Constituencies in these districts have seen a disconnect between Verma's loyalists and Congress cadres.

Rahul Gandhi, during this election campaign and before, visited these areas many times and tried to boost the Congress's fortunes.

Unfortunately, on the first day of polling in the nation's most populous state -- the 55 assembly seats will be contested by 862 candidates -- the most talked about story is Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh's statement in Allahabad.

Singh said if the Congress does not get a majority in the Uttar Pradesh election, the state would have President's rule!

Singh's statement has since been deciphered on more than two dozen local Hindi, Avadhi and Bhojpuri television news channels in a big way. Many local observers interpret Singh's warning as an advance admission of defeat.

The Congress and the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party will get some idea of their impending fortunes in the assembly election by Wednesday evening. Dalits comprise around 17 to 30 percent in these 55 seats.

Kurmis and Muslims number more than the Dalits in many seats, a fact which made Rahul Gandhi depend on Beni Prasad Verma. The BSP has tried to counter the Congress by giving 14 of these seats to Muslim candidates.

The BSP swept to power in the 2007 assembly election by winning 30 of the 55 seats in this area.

In the 2009 general election, the Congress sprung a surprise win by winning 13 Lok Sabha seats in this belt. The Samajwadi Party won just one Lok Sabha seat.

If the Samajwadi Party wants to return to power in Lucknow, it will need to win many more than the 18 assembly seats it had won in 2007. These seats could come at the BSP's expense.

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Sheela Bhatt in Lucknow
 
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