New Delhi, Dec. 17: As last month’s Uttar Pradesh local poll results came in, showing only a marginal improvement by the Congress, a Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan shook his head in annoyance.
“Unless we project leaders from the other backward classes in UP and Bihar, we are doomed,” he said. “The best policies at the Centre will not help us because voters relate to personalities and sectional interests, not policies.”
This month, as the OBC quota and tribal land rights bills were passed in the Lok Sabha, sceptics were raising the same question. Would the showpiece bills earn the party votes'
“Not the OBC bill, at least,” declared an upper caste MP from Uttar Pradesh.
He explained why. “Arjun Singh (the human resource development minister and the bill’s architect) got his politics mixed up…. The Congress never advocated sectional interests. It’s a party for one and all, from A to Z. How can we suddenly fly the backward flag and antagonise the rest of our supporters'”
The MP said that thanks to the quota bill (now an act), the upper castes in Uttar Pradesh had rallied round the BJP in the local body polls. This happened despite the BJP, unlike the Congress, boasting a line-up of OBC heavyweights like Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar and Om Prakash Singh.
So, what enabled the BJP to juggle its act better' The Congress MP explained: “That’s because they had countered the Mandal frenzy with the Mandir madness through Kalyan and Katiyar. They successfully straddled the upper caste-OBC divide.”
A younger Congress member, however, argued that unless the party played down its “pro-Brahmin” character, no other group would be attracted to it.
“It’s all very well to say we are a party for one and all. But look at our organisation down the line in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and you’ll find that the important positions are held by the Mishras, Tiwaris and Tripathis,” he said.
“Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are aware of this. They had better do something.”
A Congress study camp for young members, organised by the Uttar Pradesh unit in Chitrakoot last year, had noted the “overwhelming” upper caste presence up the ranks and the “negligible” representation of the backwards and Dalits. Rahul had addressed the camp.
Asked if the Congress will tout the OBC quota in its Uttar Pradesh campaign, a source said: “I doubt it. We can’t risk losing the upper castes. Besides, Uttaranchal is also going to the polls next door, and it is dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs.”
As for the tribal rights bill, sources said it might look a strong enough policy intervention on paper but its electoral spin-offs would hinge on the way it is implemented. More important, the Congress must project tribal leaders to prove its “good” intent.
The party has lost the tribal votes in the belt stretching from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the west through Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand in the east. This is because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has tried to match the Christian missionaries, school for school and hospital for hospital, in the tribal pockets.