Lucknow, May 16 (IANS) The dramatic comeback of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh was not foreseen even by its own leadership.
In a state that sends the largest number of 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the party's top leadership had resigned itself to a subordinate status to the two regional parties - Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) - after being kept out of power for two decades.
'We will not go below nine' - that was the common refrain of not only Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders but even that of the party's UP in-charge Digvijay Singh that had led everyone to believe that the party's revival was still a distant cry and that it would not move ahead of its 2004 tally of nine seats.
However, an extensive ground survey of large parts of the state had convinced this reporter about a strong Congress undercurrent (IANS was the first to report about two weeks ago about the straws in the wind pointing to a Congress revival).
What was amply evident was the clear shift in the Muslim vote from the Samajwadi Party (SP) to the Congress. Ironically, the realisation of a Congress undercurrent dawned on its own leaders only after the second and third round of polling in the state.
SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's much-debated bonhomie with BJP renegade Kalyan Singh, who was better known as the Babri Masjid 'demolition man', was largely responsible for this shift in the Muslim vote. BSP Chief Minister Mayawati, who moved heaven and earth to get what she thought was a captive Muslim vote, apparently did not succeed in her mission.
What made the difference was the refusal of the young Muslim voter to get guided by any diktat or 'fatwa' of the maulana. In Lucknow, barely hours before the polling, some Muslims circulated handbills urging people not to get guided by the clergy, who were alleged to have been 'bought off' by a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader.
The preference for the Congress also rose on account of its confirmed secular credentials as also because a large section of the voters had had enough of the regional political satraps who believed in pursuing their personal agenda at the cost of the larger interests of the state and its 180 million people, whose sheer numbers could rank Uttar Pradesh as the sixth largest country in the world.
What seemed to have done wonders for the Congress was the loan waiver scheme for farmers, that drew much flak from leading economists and captains of the industry.
'I was truly indebted to the Congress for having got me a loan waiver of Rs.40,000, which I would not have been able to repay on account of the onslaughts of both flood and drought' said Mata Deen, a Dalit farmer in Barabanki reserved constituency, where many others also felt the same way.
According to former Lucknow University vice chancellor Roop Rekha Verma: 'The urban lower and upper middle-class clearly went for the Congress as they were apparently sick of the regional outfits that had failed to rise beyond their agenda of extracting their own pound of flesh; so Congress became their natural choice as they did not wish to opt for a communal BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).'
'Apparently, the pro-Congress drift was a godsent and there was a definite shift towards the party that had hardly made any effort to garner votes, perhaps because its leadership presumed it to be out of the race in the state,' Verma told IANS.
Congress star campaigner Sonia Gandhi, her charismatic daughter Priyanka and well-intentioned son Rahul had rarely moved out of their pocket boroughs in Rae Bareli and Amethi to campaign elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh. It was only very close to the elections that Sonia and Rahul chose to pay fleeting visits to places other than Amethi and Rae Bareli, even though Priyanka largely remained confined to the family bastions.
Read More: Barabanki