Congress works to sustain Hathras momentum in Uttar Pradesh | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Congress works to sustain Hathras momentum in Uttar Pradesh

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Oct 05, 2020 10:18 AM IST

Several Congress leaders, including former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, compared their Hathras visit to Indira Gandhi’s trip to Belchi in Bihar in 1977. The visit is said to have revived the electoral fortunes of the Congress after its humiliating defeat in the 1977 national elections

The Congress might have leveraged the Hathras incident (the rape and subsequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman), but the party now faces the challenge of sustaining the momentum in the country’s politically important state of Uttar Pradesh where it has been relegated to the margins in the past three decades.

Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra interact with the family members of the alleged gangrape victim in Hathras on Saturday.(ANI)
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra interact with the family members of the alleged gangrape victim in Hathras on Saturday.(ANI)

Images of the Uttar Pradesh Police manhandling Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday and his sister and party general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who were on their way to Hathras on Saturday to meet the family of the woman who died in a Delhi hospital on Tuesday a fortnight after she was allegedly gang-raped in her village, have been shared widely on social media.

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They also appear to have emboldened party leaders and workers to sharpen their attack on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both in the state and Centre.

Also Read: Congress to hold ‘satyagraha’ across states to demand justice for Hathras rape victim

“These images are disturbing and have agitated not only Congress leaders and workers but the entire country. How can a policeman misbehave with any woman? And this happened to somebody who has Z plus security cover,” said Youth Congress president Srinivas BV.

Several Congress leaders, including former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, compared the Gandhi siblings’ Hathras visit to Indira Gandhi’s visit to Belchi in Bihar in 1977. It is said to have revived the electoral fortunes of the Congress after its humiliating defeat in the 1977 national elections.

Indira Gandhi travelled by train, jeep and tractor and rode an elephant to reach Belchi village where 10 Dalits had been massacred. Three years later, the Congress stormed to power in the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.

But the BJP described the Gandhi siblings’ visit to Hathras as “political tourism” and accused the Congress of politicising the issue. At the centre of the storm, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said those against development were trying to stoke caste and communal riots in the state.

Congress leaders say the party plans to aggressively raise the Hathras issue in the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar and other states (including Uttar Pradesh) where by-polls are going to be held next month.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi vows to scrap contentious farm laws once Congress returns to power at Centre

But the big task for the opposition party will be to ensure that the momentum generated by the Hathras incident is sustained in the run up to the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

In the past too, the party created a buzz on a few occasions but failed to sustain it. The Gandhi siblings, especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were at the forefront of the agitation against the amendment to the citizenship law late last year, visiting families of those killed in violent protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise.

The Congress sought to tap the anger of the youth, especially students, against the BJP, but the drive soon fizzled out.

Similarly, the party clearly stole the limelight from the Samajwadi party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) on the crisis over migrant workers travelling back to Uttar Pradesh during the coronavirus disease-induced nationwide lockdown with its aggressive posturing against the BJP.

While the BJP and the Congress slugged it out in the open, the two regional parties – SP and BSP – surprisingly watched the developments from a distance.

But after few video messages, the Congress seemingly lost the tempo.

This time, however, Congress leaders say they will not let the BJP government go unchecked in UP. “The Hathras incident has shocked India. It has highlighted the state of affairs in UP. Such incidents take place almost every day in the state and law and order has completely collapsed. The BJP government wants to brazen it out but this will not be allowed,” said senior Congress leader Jitin Prasada.

“Politics is one thing and the other is actually feeling for the aggrieved. We will be doing what an opposition party has to do but this incident is heart-breaking. We will not allow the BJP government to go unchecked in UP,” he added.

One of the reasons identified by political experts for the lack of momentum on any issue is the lack of organisational structure on the ground, given that the party has remained out of power for over three decades since 1989.

“Over the years, Congress has ceded its political space to other parties and its traditional vote base has shifted. While its Dalit vote went to BSP, the Muslims sided with SP and the upper castes aligned themselves with the BJP. The Congress has also not taken any concrete steps to strengthen the organisation over the years,” said Allahabad-based political analyst Professor Ramkishor Shastri.

“In 2009 Congress won 22 Lok Sabha seats. It could have used that opportunity to build up its organisational structure but it failed to do so,” he added.

Having been decimated in UP in the 2017 assembly elections and this year’s Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is struggling to make its presence felt in the state’s political landscape. The party had dominated the politics of UP till the emergence of Mandal-Mandir issues in late 1980s. Over the years, it has been relegated to the political margins. The party even lost its traditional bastion of Amethi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with BJP’s Smriti Irani defeating Rahul Gandhi.

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