A teary-eyed Congress as election fever heats up in Uttar Pradesh. Two rounds of votes have been polled. Congress continues to cling on to its only hope called Rahul Gandhi. The party brings up Batla House time and again - sometimes to clarify, at other times to retract the earlier clarification! We don't know when Law Minister Salman Khurshid saw tears in the eyes of party president Sonia Gandhi after the encounter, followed soon by the original Batla House vigilante, Digvijaya Singh. Singh quickly denied any tears from Sonia after the Batla incident. Now whether or not Sonia cried after the encounter is something only she knows. But it's clear now that Congress needs the Batla tears in UP elections 2012.
The government has clarified long time ago that the Batla House encounter was genuine. Then why does Congress raise it? Simple. For Muslim votes. UP has 18.5 per cent Muslim voters who play a decisive role in at least 130 seats. According to a study, about 70 seats in UP have more than 20 per cent Muslim voters. Moreover, 20 seats in western UP, 10 in eastern UP, five in central UP and one in Bundelkhand have 30-40 per cent Muslim voters. BJP doesn't need these votes. Samajwadi Party claims these votes as its birthright. Although BSP has formed governments with the BJP in the past, it still aspires for these votes. That explains why BSP has fielded 84 Muslim candidates as compared to 75 from SP and 61 from Congress. And let's not ignore Peace Party and Ulema Council in the fray who have adopted the BSP model. They think if Mayawati can form a government with 20 per cent Dalits in the state, then it should not be difficult for them with 18.5 per cent Muslim votes. Congress knows the battle for UP is not going to be easy.
The ongoing Assembly elections are crucial for the Congress for various reasons. One, because Rahul Gandhi has already made it a question of his prestige and position. Rahul and Digvijaya Singh have been working in the state for five years now. The party surprised everyone by bagging 22 UP seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, barely two years after the 2007 rout. Rahul was behind the successful turnaround. His 'go-alone' policy where he refused to align with the SP worked. If the same logic works in 2012, the party can expect to win more than 90 seats. However, it's easier said than done. Yet, Congress remains hopeful and buoyant.
Two, Congress knows that the only way it can be strong at the Centre is by performing well in UP. Due to the coalition politics , the party today is a victim of 'blackmail politics' aka A Raja. Congress is not used to coalition dharm . The Nehru-Gandhi never formed governments with the support of others. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi commanded huge mandate whereas P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh had to depend on other political parties to run their governments. Rahul would not like to head a government where he has to suffer allies like DMK or a Trinamool. So this elections will also decide whether or not Rahul Gandhi be Prime Minister in near future?
Three, Congress doing well in UP will also mean that Rahul's political acumen and leadership abilities are unparalleled in Congress . I am not a Rahul admirer, but I will, in all fairness, concede that by his herculean efforts to re-establish Congress in UP, the Congress leader has undertaken one of the most formidable political challenges in independent India. It requires nerves of steel. Rahul could have easily delegated this mission to a subordinate in the party. But by taking the challenge head-on, he has sent out a strong message that he has not been served the Congress legacy on a platter, unlike many other blue-eyed princes in other political parties. He may be the 'natural heir' to the Congress throne, but he has gone beyond merely claiming the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. He toiled, sweated, roamed in the dusty by-lanes and hamlets of UP, was even abused and 'shoed' away.
Four, the inverse of the same logic is also true. If he loses UP, he is in deep trouble. The ambitious leaders within the Congress are waiting for one opportunity to pull the 'Yuvraaj' down from his royal stead. Questions will be raised on Rahul's leadership qualities and political wisdom. Rahul and his brigade are aware of the threat. Hence, they are desperate.
This desperation has led to a few mistakes that his father Rajiv Gandhi also committed years ago. To please the Muslim votebank, Rajiv had overturned a Supreme Court decision in the famous Shah Bano case. The Hindu groups went to town with the decision and gained a lot of political mileage. Today, the same Congress is stoking the Batla House fire. By looking at terror through the prism of religion, the party is committing the same folly that the BJP did when it stood with the Malegaon blasts case accused. Promising 4.5 per cent of the 27 per cent OBC quota to Muslims and Salman Khurshid's controversial 9 per cent reservation comments are unfortunate. This can backfire, just like the Shah Bano case did. This again is a form of communalism and may force the Congress to shed tears of blood.