September 01, 2016

India: Is the Congress moving towards soft Hindutva to woo the state of UP?


Battleground UP: is the Congress moving towards soft Hindutva to woo the state?
Anil K Ankur @CatchNews | First published: 30 August 2016, 16:29 IST

The Congress seems to be reinventing itself. Both at the level of words and deeds. The change is all too visible in the run-up to the Assembly elections in UP.

It was for the first time that the Congress declared its CM candidate well in advance in UP. The tactical shift is also tangible in its attempt to project itself as a pro-Hindu party.

The Congress has undertaken various yatras in different parts of the state as part of its campaign. The new ways of the party can be seen in the events organised during these yatras.

Buoyed by the presence of master poll strategist Prashant Kishor, the Congress is carrying on its poll campaign with renewed vigour. The attempt is to give it an organised and attractive look. However, the most surprising are the efforts to mix the hues of Hindutva in to its canvassing.
Turning saffron?

The aim is not only to rejuvenate the old Congressmen but also to give a befitting reply to the parties that have always identified the Congress with particular segments.

The underlying current of 'Hindi hain hum, Hindu hain (We are Indians, we are Hindus)' in party's activities indicates its strategy to woo upper caste Hindu votes in these upcoming elections. This is the reason the Congress is also keeping a safe distance from English-speaking leaders. The game plan seems to be succeeding to a large extent in uniting party workers and sympathisers.
The Congress version of Hindutva

The march organised to felicitate party's newly-appointed state president Raj Babbar in Lucknow witnessed a robust attendance.

The response of the party workers was equally enthusiastic when Sheila Dikshit was announced as party's CM candidate. The party activists were present in large numbers when she made her speech at the party headquarters.

It was followed by party's three-day long yatra. Almost all the prominent state party leaders came onboard for this journey that ended in Kanpur. These leaders addressed a lot of gatherings over the three days.

Then came Rahul Gandhi's special meeting with activists in Lucknow. A special stage was erected for this purpose and the party vice-president interacted with his foot-soldiers. The event was considered a success.

After Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi jumped into the heat of the campaign through her road show in Modi's constituency of Varanasi. The itinerary still has many such programmes on the list. The Congress yatras in various parts of UP are still continuing and more are to follow. However, all these events are marked by something that was BJP's hallmark until now. For instance, every Congress yatra these days begin with cracking the coconut, blowing of conchs and other Hindu rituals.
What is special in Congress' new style?

One might recall the Congress campaign during the last Vidhan Sabha polls to gauge this change. In 2012, Rahul Gandhi kicked off party's campaign on the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru by addressing a rally in Phulpur.

The Gandhi scion addressed around 125 rallies in those elections. The result was 28 seats in the party's kitty with 11.53% votes.

The current poll strategy is believed to be chalked out by Kishor in consultation with the high command. It is said that projecting a Brahmin candidate for the post of CM was Kishor's idea.

The visible nuances of Hindutva in all the party's events in the state are also apparently his suggestion.

The evidence lies in the fact that Sonia Gandhi was scheduled to visit Varanasi's Vishwanath Temple during her visit and participate in the Ganga aarti. It is another matter her health prevented her from completing the visit.

Yet, the Congress managed to score points by advertising her schedule. The party has high hopes of the social combination of Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims this time around.

The party appears to have changed its style of functioning at the ground level as well. One can see meticulously designed stages in the party rallies. Even the road shows are organised differently. It remains to be seen whether a departure from the past culture would serve the party's interests in the state where it is fighting for survival.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen