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Congress has made Ghulam Nabi Azad as in-charge of state of Uttar Pradesh which goes to polls next year. The state elections are very important for Modi. If BJP wins the polls, there is no stopping the party from sweeping 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If BJP loses, it would raise hopes of anti-Modi forces in the country and provide opposition an opportunity to unite and form a ‘mahagathbandhan’.
Congress has been reduced to a non-entity in UP after mandal-kamandal movement of 1990s (less than 10% vote share). The party has appointed Prashant Kishor to head its campaign strategy and revive its fortunes. The mission of Congress is that BJP should not win these elections at any cost. If it succeeds in this objective, it will be mission accomplished for the party.
Congress knows that this is not possible if there is a quadrangular contest – SP vs BSP vs BJP vs Congress. In a four cornered fight BJP may sneak through. Hence an alliance with either Mayawati or Akhilesh is the need of the hour. Alliances have also helped the party to perform significantly better in states where it was weak, like in Bihar and West Bengal. SP and BSP are currently showing cold shoulder to Congress.
Congress strategy is to revive its traditional vote bank of Brahmins – Muslims – Dalits. Muslims account for 19% of population and Congress has on an average received 17% community votes. Congress would try to position and aggressively pitch itself as the champion of minorities and downtrodden (with the help of hi-tech campaign by PK and his team). The aim is to scare SP / BSP that it could make a dent into their anchor vote segments.
As elections near, though polls put BSP as ahead, things will heat up and BJP will become a front runner riding on its three tier strategy of development, caste alliances and polarization. Its then when both SP and BSP may approach Congress for a tie up.
After all 6%-8% vote share of the party (in worst case) can clinch the deal in favour of Maya as well as Mulayam. Then Congress can chose who to align with, who is a lesser evil. With BSP supporting Congress candidates in some states in Rajya Sabha, Congress-BSP tie up has high probability than SP-Congress tie up.
Defeat of BJP at any cost, making itself a strong contender for anchor vote segments of Maya (Dalits) and Mulayam (Muslims) and forcing BSP / SP into an alliance with the party is the overall objective of Congress. Azad’s appointment should be seen as a first step of this strategy.