NEW DELHI: Congress President Rahul Gandhi announced in Dubai that the party would fight the elections in Uttar Pradesh hard, and within days the All India Congress Committee announced that sister Priyanka Gandhi will for the first time take formal charge as General Secretary UP, East. And his close friend and colleague Jyotiraditya Scindial will be General Secretary UP, West.

UP General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad has been shifted to take care of Haryana. This is the first time ever that the AICC has dispensed with one general secretary for UP, and divided it into East and West under two different leaders.

The announcement for Uttar Pradesh has created a flutter in Opposition circles. A senior Opposition MP told The Citizen that they had got wind of this move a week ago, and had actually advised the Congress against it. As this will fracture the Opposition vote and benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The announcement by the AICC makes it clear that the Congress is looking at these elections to revive in UP. And do so on a war footing as the presence of both Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia indicate. One is from the Nehru-Gandhi family itself, the other a close friend and hence the stakes have immediately been revved up to not just improve performance, but make a serious bid for the vote and for control of the state that carries 80 Lok Sabha seats.

Given the fact that both will be starting from scratch, with the Congress organisation almost non existent in the state, this will be a herculean effort. And at best will confuse the Muslim voter, who would have otherwise gone decisively with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance that is looking to consolidate the anti-BJP voter that includes now Dalits, Yadavs, Other Backwards and the Muslims.

The Congress party, sources said, is looking at its old Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim formula with a keen eye for the disaffected upper castes. Sources said that the party has sensed opportunity for revival in the state, and with the younger leaders now in charge is already hoping to expand its footprint in the state rapidly. However, Opposition leaders pointed out that this will be at the expense of the BSP-SP and in the process the BJP could again benefit.

In the process, the UP election is wide open again with the Congress---the only party without a decisive vote---emerging as a poacher for both the BJP and the SP-BSP alliance. Given its current position in UP it remains to be seen whether the party will be able to convince the UP voter to repose trust in it again, after three decades where the party has been virtually pushed out of the ruling structure in the state.

In the last Assembly elections in 2017 that brought the BJP into power with 39.47 per cent of the votes, the Congress had secured only 6.2% as against the 44.2% totalling the BSP-SP vote percentage. It was a fairly similar show in the Lok Sabha 2014 elections where the BJP and NDA swept with over 42 per cent of the votes, the SP-BSP together secured just over 41% and the Congress secured just 7.50 % of the vote share and two seats in Parliament.

SP leader Akhilesh Yadav who had contested the Assembly polls in alliance with the Congress only to suffer a crushing defeat has just said that he decided to go along with the BSP to get his “poll arithmetic” right. It is well known that the Congress organisation does not exist in UP, but now with Priyanka Gandhi at the helm the party workers are optimistic of a change around. An old Lucknow hand said that the Congress had seen bad days, “but now we might looking at a shift.”

This enthusiasm is not shared by the Opposition leaders both in and outside UP. The consensus of those spoken to was that the move has one, come too late in the day and hence two, will divide the voter and help the BJP. More so as UP is the state of hectic communalisation, where currently Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still seen as ahead amongst the upper castes that the Congress party hopes to woo back along with the Muslims and sections of the Dalits who had voted for the BJP earlier.

All in all from a good fight, the Opposition is again being pushed by its own into an electoral abyss in UP.