Congress eyeing national revival via Uttar Pradesh

The Congress is trying to make its presence felt through new-style politics. The party is trying to woo two crucial segments of the society; women, who constitute half the state’s 25 crore population and around 7 crore youth, by launching separate manifestoes for them, writes Amit Agnihotri

The Congress is looking at the party’s national revival by focusing extensively on the coming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

The Congress strategy is in line with the belief that the party ruling UP stands a better chance of coming to power at the center, given the fact that the state sends the largest number of 80 seats to the Lok Sabha.

No wonder, the 2022 UP assembly polls hold a special place in the Congress’ scheme of things through which the party aims to regain ground in the 2024 national elections.

With the coming UP polls increasingly becoming a battle between the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party, the Congress is trying to make its presence felt through new-style politics.

The Congress is trying to woo two crucial segments of the society, women, who constitute half the state’s 25 crore population and around 7 crore youth (which includes women) by launching separate manifestoes for them.

After launching the party’s pink manifesto, which focussed on 40 percent reservation for women in ticket distribution and a women-centric “Ladki hun, Lad sakti hun” campaign designed by party in charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in December last, the Congress came out with a detailed plan to provide 20 lakh jobs, including 8 lakh jobs for women, for the young voters in January 2022.

The promise of 20 lakh government jobs includes filling up 1.5 lakh vacant teachers’ posts in the primary education sector and 1 lakh vacant principals’ posts in the basic education sector.

The 38,000 vacant teachers’ posts in the secondary education sector shall also be filled along with 8,000 vacant teachers’ posts in higher education and colleges, the party’s youth manifesto said.

Further, a mass recruitment drive shall be conducted throughout the state to fulfill the student-teacher ratio as laid out in the Right to Education Act, passed during the previous UPA government at the center.

Lack of jobs has been a concern among the youth of UP who, the Congress claims, feel shortchanged by parties like BSP, SP and BJP that have ruled the state over the past two and a half decades.

Positioning the Congress as the only party which can provide a new vision for the country and the state, former party chief Rahul Gandhi took on the BJP saying its New India campaign launched in 2014 had failed.

Our understanding is and our belief is that India requires a new vision. The vision that was proposed by the BJP in 2014 has completely failed, it’s a disaster and it is turning our demographic dividend into a demographic disaster. So, India requires a new vision going forward and this is something that most youngsters would agree with. Even people in the BJP, if you ask them, they will also say that something has gone very wrong. The vision that was committed has failed,” said Rahul.

“Now, if you look at India and you want to propose a new vision to India, you have to start in UP. Every state is important, but UP occupies a weight that no other state occupies, so we are proposing a new way of doing things, a new imagination for UP,” said Rahul, adding, “Youngsters in UP understand very well that the last 20-25 years have not really got them anything. UP, which used to lead the country in jobs, in fact, if you think about it, UP was the center of the resistance to the British. UP was where the constitution, where these very far reaching ideas came from and so it is a step towards providing a vision for the country and we understand that this has to begin in UP.”

The former Congress chief pointed out that around 16 lakh youth in UP had lost their jobs over the past five years and said that the BJP’s promise of creating 2 crore jobs in the country per year had failed.

“PM Modi promised 2 crore jobs every year, but everyone knows the reality. UP has the highest unemployment in 40 years. Today, the youth of the country and the state need a new vision. Only Congress can deliver this,” he said.

New Hope

The Congress strategy in UP is based on an assessment that the voters are prepared to look beyond the traditional caste driven politics in the state.

If the plan works on the ground, not only could it have a ripple effect in other poll-bound states like Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, the move will also generate hope for the 2024 national elections.

The party could not win the 2014 and the 2019 national polls and lost several states over the past seven years. At present the party rules only in Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and shares power in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.

The fact that the UP job-plan was unveiled jointly by Rahul and Priyanka at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi instead of state capital Lucknow gave a hint at the party’s long-term strategy.

The Congress is betting big on its new age politics as it is aware of the challenges the party faces in UP where the organization had been pushed to the margins over the past years.

The party’s tally came down to just seven out of 403 assembly seats in 2017 and just one Lok Sabha seat (Rae Bareli represented by Sonia Gandhi) out of 80 in 2019.

The Congress, however, surprised everyone by winning 23/80 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when the UPA was in power.

Targeting Center

The grand old party used the launch of job plan to target the central government by saying that the Centre’s appallingly negligent approach towards this critical aspect of contemporary economy, its policy of selling off profitable public assets and its leniency towards corruption in the recruitment process and the conduct of recruitment tests had progressively crushed the hopes of lakhs of young people.

As a result, the young people of Uttar Pradesh had lost faith in the very system that is expected to be responsible for securing their future, the Congress said.

Noting that progress was founded on good education, the party pledged to significantly increase funding for primary, secondary, and higher education and to make every effort to correct the system’s disparities.

The attempt would be to unshackle the immense potential of UP to provide opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship to the youth, the party said, adding that that the promise was  to create new avenues with a focus on manufacturing clusters, the creative industry, technological innovation, and by providing robust support for local and traditional handicrafts and small businesses.

Keeping in mind that the power of young people, their freedom, self-expression, passion, vitality, creativity, and determination were the driving forces of a nation, the Congress vowed to create an environment that allowed such dreams to fly.

Priyanka alleged that the examination and recruitment system in the state needed an overhaul and assured to revamp the system to make the process transparent.

“There are major scams in entrance exams, papers are leaked and exams are conducted only to be canceled. We will ensure that this kind of corruption is not allowed to happen and the steps we will take are listed in the youth manifesto,” she said.

These measures include a job calendar, in which recruitment advertisement, examination, appointment dates will be recorded and strict action will be taken in case of violation.

Application fees for all recruitment exams would be waived and those appearing for such exams can travel for free in trains and buses. Moreover, single-window scholarship applications will also be set up.

There will be social justice supervisors for every recruitment exam to prevent reservation scam Priyanka further said that interest free loans up to Rs 5 lakh will be provided to the young entrepreneurs in UP and area-specific products will be given a boost to strengthen local craftsmen and women.

For that a group of 100 units would be declared an industrial cluster for better management of small-scale operations. Most private jobs, said Rahul, come from small and medium enterprises.

The party had carried out detailed consultations with the youth across the state before drafting the job manifesto, Priyanka pointed out that the Congress only promised what it can deliver.

Party face

Though the BJP campaign is being led by chief minister Yogi Adityanath, there is little doubt that PM Modi will be the real mascot of the saffron party in UP. Yogi will contest from his stronghold Gorakhpur.

The SP is banking on the appeal of former chief minister and party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who will contest from Karhal in Mainpuri district.

In a clever move, the Congress has avoided the question of Priyanka being the chief ministerial candidate of the party and fighting the coming polls despite occasional hints coming from the leader herself.

Elections for the 403-member UP assembly will be held over seven phases on February 10, 14, 20, 23, 27, March 3 and 7. The results will be out on March 10.