Lucknow: A little over two years ago, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, had told a sea of supporters and party workers that he had been beckoned by the Ganga to come to Varanasi to contest the Lok Sabha elections. “Mujhe Ganga maiyya ne bulaya hai (Mother Ganga has summoned me),” he told jubilant supporters as he sought their votes. Ganga became his stepping stone to 7, Race Course Road.
On 2 August, as Congress president Sonia Gandhi comes to Kashi for a road show, she, sources say, is set to take the sheen of Ganga off the prime minister and “take him to task over the pathetic situation of the holy river” despite the hullabulloo and crores of rupees that have gone in vain to clean it up. The Ganga will be an impassioned weapon in Gandhi’s armour against Modi, said a senior party leader.
Strategists in the Congress, which was pushed to its worst electoral tally in its history by Modi’s high-decibel campaign, say the party chief is likely to whip up passions about how the river continues to be a “big mess” many many years after her late husband Rajiv Gandhi rolled out the ‘Ganga Safai Abhiyan’ from the Dr Rajendra Prasad Ghat on June 14, 1986.
Before her roadshow criss-crosses the narrow bylines of Kashi, she will be closeted with environmentalists, locals involved in Ganga cleanup activities and Vishambhar Nath Mishra, mahout of the fabled Sankat Mochan temple, whose father had led a major drive to clean up the river.
Sources told IANS that while Gandhi’s speeches and campaign would focus on issues like price rise, inflation, crime and communal tension, her primary focus would be Modi and his “failures with regard to his parliamentary constituency”.
Gandhi’s 12-km road show is part of the Congress’ ongoing ’27 saal, UP behaal’ (UP has been ignored for 27 years) campaign that began last week and saw senior state party leaders take a bus trip from Delhi to Kanpur and a well-attended Udghosh interactive programme in the state capital by party vice president Rahul Gandhi.
With new faces in the state——Raj Babbar and Sheila Dixit——pitchforked by party strategist Prashant Kishore, the Congress is trying hard to regain its lost glory in the state, which it once ruled for many decades till being ousted from power in 1989.
The Congress has a mere 28 seats in the 403-member UP assembly. This is six up from its previous tally and the party is leaving nothing to chance to improve its numbers this time round. Assembly elections are due early next year.
From caste combinations to new faces to exploring the possibility of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigning, party mandarins are in a proactive mode. The Congress formed the government in UP in 1951,1957, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1985, after which it yielded space to the BJP and regional parties after the Mandal era.
While the outcome of these efforts would only be known next year, the party for now is oiling its armoury to take on Modi and dent his credentials in the run up to the 2017 assembly polls.