The Congress Search for a Brahmin for UP: Why It Will Not be Rahul Gandhi
NEW DELHI: The election strategist, this time for the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, Prashant Kishor has placed the cat amongst the pigeons. “You want to win the state, bring a credible Brahmin as your chief minister candidate,” is his bottom line clearly geared to bringing back the old Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit combination that kept the party in power for several decades after independence.
Of course it should have not required a Kishor to spell out what is a political truth, but then perhaps the party needed to outsource its basic political thinking. This was the winning alliance of votes for the Congress that spread across the communities, and that worked for the Janata Dal initially, but has since never really worked as a troika for any one political party. BSP’s Mayawati did get the Brahmin vote during one election, but her base now remains a section of the Dalits with the Muslims shifting to her or Mulayam Singh Yadav as the circumstances so dictate. The Samajwadi party has the Yadav base, added to by the Muslims. The BJP is looking now for a consolidation of the upper castes, that includes the Jats in Western UP, along with a chunk of the Other Backward and Dalit votes.
The Congress has no vote bank at the moment that it can call its own. The Brahmins have been voting for the BJP in the last couple of elections, including the 2014 Lok Sabha polls; the Muslims except in rare constituencies have preferred the BSP and the Samajwadi party; the Dalits have not even looked the Congress way now for several elections over the past 20 years at least.
The Kishor calculation, that die hard Congressmen from UP have been saying for a while, is to get back the old combination. His strategy clearly is to focus on the most ‘vulnerable’ vote for the Congress, namely the Brahmins who have shown more fluidity of movement than the Muslims and the Dalits in the recent past. Also Brahmins while clearly more and more influenced by the BJP, have not completely deserted the Congress party ideologically and can be wooed back with the right measures. And one of the measures proposed by Kishor is to pick a good Chief Ministerial candidate who will convince the Brahmins that the Congress finally means business, and is looking upon them as a preferred vote bank.
For this purpose the election strategist has suggested that Rahul Gandhi or his sister Priyanka Vadra pick up the mantle for UP but clearly no decision has been taken on this. Jairam Ramesh has said that Rahul Gandhi will be named President of the Congress this year, thereby ruling out UP politics for him. Priyanka has for various reasons yet to be defined has stayed out of direct politics, ignoring the clamour of Congress workers who are convinced that she can do an Indira Gandhi-kind-of- turnaround for the Congress party.
The 3 main reasons why Rahul Gandhi will not lead UP as a local candidate are:
1. He is all set to replace Sonia Gandhi as party President, and is expected to lead the party into the polls in all states, not just one state;
2. He will not take the risk of running as Chief Minister of UP, a state that has turned against the Congress---giving it just two seats in the Lok Sabha and 30 in the Assembly---where the voter is highly politicised and difficult to fathom. A defeat will impact on his national role adversely;
3. He is in the big league, of Prime Minister where even if he loses the Lok Sabha race he has the age to wait for another opportunity. He will lose this space if he moves into UP, unless of course a win is a certainty that it most certainly is not.
Kishor aware of this reluctance---and by the way all reports on him are credited to sources as he does not like to speak on the record---has suggested a Brahmin leader with the Congress now hunting for a credible face.
Given the paucity, the search seems to have stalled at 78 year old Sheila Dixit who has not been treated very well by the party despite winning Delhi repeatedly. She had been promised a Cabinet berth that was denied; she was then sent just before the last general elections as a Governor to Kerala from where she resigned at the instance of the new government. It remains to be seen whether she still has the energy and the will to lead the Congress in what is going to be a crucial battle next year.
Clearly one expects that a Brahmin leader in place will be followed by a specific manifesto addressing the concerns of the community that measures 13% of the UP population. And that this will be done, and can be done in an increasingly polarised order, without alienating the Dalits. In fact, conversely, by wooing them through a series of specific promises and large scale campaigning on the ground. The Brahmins who had reposed considerable faith in the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls as did the other communities as well, now constitute a disillusioned vote bank, thereby feeding into Kishor’s assumption that the community can be won over. The trick is to make them work as a consolidate vote bank for the Congress, and if this can be managed the party can finally claim a support base.
The Muslims in UP, and given the deteriorating secular environment, will move to the non-BJP party that convinces them of having a vote bank adequate enough to come to power with their support. The anger against the Congress party visible in elections for almost 20 years now has dissipated substantially for the minorities to be willing to change their voting pattern, provided the Congress emerges as a real force at the hustings. As Congress leaders know, and as Kishor is clearly banking on, this vote bank can return to the old party if other equations change.
(PHOTO: This photograph taken by the Indian Express is perhaps the only one in public of Rahul Gandhi and Prashant Kishor together)