The Congress might need more than the promises that Priyanka Gandhi has been making to Uttar Pradesh voters, who have rejected the party consistently since 1989.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress’s general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, has been on a promise-making spree. As of Monday, Priyanka Gandhi has made seven-plus-one promises as she tries to position the Congress as the principal challenger to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election 2022.
However, the Congress might need more than the promises that Priyanka Gandhi has been making to Uttar Pradesh voters, who have rejected the party consistently since 1989. After losing power to the Janata Dal in 1989, it has been a downhill journey for the Congress in seven consecutive assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress’s organisation has weakened since then with its vote percentage consistently declining, barring a minor upward blip. Except 2012, the Congress’s vote percentage in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections has not been in double digits since 1993.
By 1996, the Congress had resigned to its fate in Uttar Pradesh playing a junior partner to the emerging Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) under Mayawati. The Congress entered into an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP contesting merely 126 seats. Uttar Pradesh Assembly back then had 425 seats.
The Congress won 33 seats and polled merely 8.3 per cent votes a massive decline from the 28 per cent in 1989, 18 per cent in 1991 and 15 per cent in 1993. In subsequent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress’s vote share stood at nine per cent in 2002, 8.6 per cent in 2007, 11.6 per cent in 2012 and 6.3 per cent in 2017.
The Congress’s declining political capital in Uttar Pradesh has pushed it to the margins where neither the SP nor the BSP, the two leading Opposition parties in the state want to tie up with the grand old party of the Indian politics. The Congress is practically left to fend for itself and wage a battle for survival in Uttar Pradesh.
After Rahul Gandhi’s efforts through 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019 state and parliamentary elections failed to revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi aims to turn the corner for the party with her promises. Priyanka Gandhi has led the Opposition’s charge against the BJP, particularly since the Lakhimpur Kheri violence that claimed eight lives.
Priyanka Gandhi has made seven promises to implement in Uttar Pradesh, if the Congress was voted to power in 2022 polls. The seven promises are:
- 40 per cent Congress tickets to women in UP polls (this is a pre-poll implementation promise),
- giving free smartphones and e-scooters to girls,
- full farm loan waiver,
- 20 lakh government jobs for youth (the biggest of all promises for Uttar Pradesh),
- electricity bill for farmers to be halved plus no electricity bills to be levied during the pandemic period,
- Rs 25,000 assistance to Covid-affected families,
- and a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 2,500 per quintal for rice and Rs 400 per quintal for sugarcane.
Additionally, Priyanka Gandhi on Monday announced free treatment and healthcare facilities of up to Rs 10 in Uttar Pradesh if the Congress was voted to power in the forthcoming assembly election. Uttar Pradesh saw massive healthcare crisis during the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. Priyanka Gandhi aims to cash in on the healthcare crisis that would be fresh in public memory.
“Everyone saw the dilapidated condition of the health system in UP during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a result of the apathy and neglect of the current government. With the consent of the Manifesto Committee, the UP Congress has decided that when it forms the government in UP, any disease will be treated free of cost. The government will bear expenses up to Rs 10 lakh,” Priyanka Gandhi said in a Twitter post.
The Congress has benefitted from farm loan waiver promises in three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in 2018. It has wrested the three states from the BJP in state polls. It, however, lost Madhya Pradesh following dissension in the ranks and defection of 25 MLAs in 2020.
In Bihar, the Congress’s ally Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) gained traction in the assembly polls in 2020 after it promised 10 lakh government jobs. The RJD’s election promise had forced the BJP to offer 19 lakh jobs. While the BJP-led coalition won the polls, the RJD emerged as the single-largest party in Bihar.
The Congress eyes to achieve a similar feat in Uttar Pradesh. But unlike its now estranged ally RJD in Bihar, the Congress lacks enough candidates and organisational strength of workers in Uttar Pradesh. This is what the Congress may need beyond Priyanka Gandhi as its Uttar Pradesh Assembly election face and the string of promises, she is making in the state polls.