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If there is one state that provides a template to study the diminishing returns of the Congress in contemporary Indian politics, Uttar Pradesh stands out. The country’s largest state in terms of population and the number of parliamentarians—80 in the Lok Sabha—was a Congress domain until December 1989, with Narayan Dutt Tiwari being its last chief minister. This was the grand old party’s undisputed stronghold, barring pinprick stints by Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the Janata Party to break the hegemony.
That was then—1989 could be the Orwellian 1984 for the Congress. In the following decades, the party lost its footing progressively in the state as Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins—its core supporters—veered towards Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (though not necessarily in that order). As things stand today, the Congress can at best be described as a spent force in UP and irrelevant for its politics.
The idea of a grand alliance is giving relevance to the irrelevant Congress, especially in UP.
But a kind of relevance is emerging from its irrelevance. All because of the brute strength the BJP has been gathering and displaying since 2014 with election victories across the country. The Samajwadis and the BSP need a Bihar-style mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, in the 2019 general elections to stop the BJP from repeating its previous poll feat of winning 72 seats in UP. The Congress, with its shrinking but small and loyal voter base, could play a significant role to soar up the collective fortunes of the anti-BJP camp as well as win a dignified number of seats for itself.
The ideal situation for the Opposition would be an SP-BSP-Congress-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance. But given the fickleness of politics, a second option could be a Congress-RLD tie-up, making the parliamentary elections a multi-corner contest in UP. Either way the Congress is likely to acquire some value as a minor player with a major role in the state. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi may not get a major share of seats to contest in UP as part of a mahagathbandhan, but the party will have a significant say at the national level with the regional satraps by its side.
The writer is director, GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad