Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the BJP’s election campaign for Uttar Pradesh from Saharanpur, timing it with the NDA’s second anniversary on Thursday. The Congress though is still scrambling to put in place a strategy for the crucial assembly polls that sends the highest number of MPs – 80 – to the Lok Sabha.
The problem seems to be with their poll strategist’s suggestions not going down well with party workers, and the central leadership in some instances.
To turn its electoral fortunes following its recent abysmal performance, the Congress roped in Prashant Kishor, the man widely believed to be behind Modi’s and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s electoral success. However, Kishor is struggling to get all his ideas cleared by the grand old party.
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A few of his suggestions – that Rahul Gandhi be declared the party’s Uttar Pradesh chief ministerial candidate and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra lead the campaign – were outright rejected.
Kishor is also facing resistance to replacing the party’s state chief, Nirmal Khatri , with a Brahmin leader, for a wider electoral appeal. Madhusudan Mistry, the Congress general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, has countered it, arguing that there is little time left to the 2017 elections to bring in a new person.
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A section of the state unit also complained of Kishor’s “unsolicited interference” in orgnisational matters, citing his “unilateral decision” to summon office bearers for a meeting in Lucknow recently.
The Congress clarified that Kishor’s role was limited to making relevant suggestions for the election manifesto and campaign in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
A senior central functionary, though, insisted that the strategist was being provided with all the “help” and “logistics” to “spruce up” the campaign.
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Kishor has been provided with 1,500 names of Congressmen in Uttar Pradesh, 20 from each of the 75 districts, as per his request. “He wanted to see the organisational strength of the Congress at the district level,” said a Congress leader.
The party, which was thrown out of power in Uttar Pradesh in 1989, has often blamed its organisational weakness for the drubbing. It now desperately seeks a renaissance in the state.
Sources said Kishor has thus far verified 800 of the names.
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Another strategy being shaped up is the identification of “potential winnable” seats. Though the Congress is likely to fight on all the 403 seats after it ruled out any pre-poll alliance, it is zeroing in on about 150 constituencies where their “good” fighting chances are high.
Rahul Gandhi had led the 2012 poll campaign from the front, addressing 211 public meetings across the state in just 45 days. But the party won only 28 seats, just six more than its tally in the 2007 elections.