NEW DELHI: There finally seems to be a tentative strategy emerging from the Congress party for the Uttar Pradesh elections. And while this has yet to crystallise, it clearly is following a pattern that had not been hitherto visible in the Congress party’s approach to Uttar Pradesh that usually began and ended with a Rahul Gandhi visit.

In the process of course, Congress chief Amarinder Singh is reported to be hopping mad as the party top brass has failed to name him as the Chief Minister candidate for Punjab, whereas it has shown no hesitation in bringing Sheila Dixit out as the CM candidate for UP. Singh, if sources are correct, has been making his anger known to all and sundry and even threatening to drop the Congress campaign midway into the polls.

There is a reason why the Congress party has moved out of its comfort zone to actually declare Sheila Dixit, daughter-in-law of the late Uma Shankar Dixit of UP, as its person for the top job. In fact there are two reasons. One, Dixit is 78 years old, does not the ambitions of a younger leader, and if and when required will step aside with the dignity that is her special brand to accommodate a leader for the post from probably another party.

And two, more significantly, she has the reputation of a good innings in Delhi, is well regarded by all communities, and can be projected as the inheritor of the Congress Brahmin legacy of UP symbolised by her late father-in-law as well as the remnants of other families like that of veteran Kamlapati Tripathi whose grandsons are in politics. Dixit has the graciousness to bring all into the fold, and can be expected to rise above the factional politics currently dividing the Congress in the state.

Dixit is part of a strategy, courtesy Prashant Kishor perhaps, to bring at least some vote into the Congress kitty that is completely empty in UP. Of the old vote bank of Brahmins-Muslims-Dalits, the Brahmins currently seem to be the most responsive to the Congress party. It must be noted that Brahmins in UP have followed a more secular tradition than most others, and are not easily swayed by divisive politics. It is a shrewd votebank, more decisive than others, and well aware of its interests and choices.

Reports from UP have suggested a certain disaffection with the BJP amongst the Brahmins, also because some of the traditional leaders in the BJP like Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon have been marginalised. Also former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who commanded a following and loyalty has not been replaced at any level, with this vote bank now worried about its future in the state. It needs, as sources said, pampering and Dixit and others now being put in place by the Congress are expected to do precisely that.

The Congress has finally reposed trust in Sanjay Singh, the ‘Raja’ of Amethi who has a good following in the area. Seen as a Rajput leader, Singh has been neglected and sidelined often by the Congress top brass that has been reluctant to put his organisational flair to good use. By making him the campaign chief for the party in the state, it is clearly looking towards mobilising the upper caste leaders, and bringing in a more aggressive and proactive hue to the campaign.

The surprise announcement of Raj Babbar as the Congress chief that raised sufficient eyebrows in Lucknow as testimony to his ‘light weight’ stature has also probably to do with his own PR skills that revolve around his ability to please everyone. Babar is expected to follow directions from the party leadership for the elections unquestioningly, and this is what the party is looking for at the moment it seems.

The Congress knows as well as others, even though it cannot admit it for obvious reasons, that it is in no position to form the government in UP. And contrary to ill informed media conjecture, it is not trying to do this. Instead it is trying to place itself in a position where it can be considered a worthwhile ally to form a government along with one or the other regional parties that still hold sway in the state. And realising that it can only hope to do so if it has a good number of seats in its bag, it is moving to win over what currently is a vulnerable vote in UP.

For the Congress, Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj party is the favoured option. It is true that Mayawati has also thrown her hat into the ring for the Brahmin vote, but it is also true that given a choice the Brahmin voters would prefer the Congress to the BSP. A dent in the upper caste vote bank at this stage will work against the BJP that had secured a maximum percentage of this vote in the last Lok Sabha elections and hopes to repeat this in the forthcoming Assembly polls.

Under Kishor’s guidance clearly, the strategy thus is to work on the upper caste vote, in particular the Brahmins in UP, and make a dent in what is currently the BJP vote. This strategy could increase the Congress seats in the state, and help it emerge as a ‘king maker’ in the process.

A good beginning for a party that has moved from the top of the ladder to the bottom, and has been unable to start the climb despite a great deal of thrashing about in the recent past. It now remains to be seen how many slips there are betwixt the cup and the lip as it were, for the Congress does have the remarkable ability of queering its own pitch.