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Perplexed Congress leaves it to people

Raj Thackeray

New Delhi, March 10: The Congress today sought to counter Narendra Modi’s rising popularity in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by citing the BJP’s purported ties with two Maharashtra parties known to target Hindi speakers from these states.

It referred to the BJP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena and accused it of a tacit understanding with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

“The people of Bihar and UP should ponder over this duplicity: Modi seeks their support by giving speeches in Hindi and sends Nitin Gadkari to strike a tacit alliance with Raj Thackeray, the man who beat up and humiliated Hindi-speaking people from these states,” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told a news conference.

The Congress’s strength has been falling steadily in both these key states while the BJP’s star has been rising in Bihar and Modi’s ascent appears to have prompted a turnaround in Uttar Pradesh.

Opinion polls have been predicting 40 to 50 seats for the BJP in India’s most populous and politically most significant state.

Most Congress leaders are amazed at Modi’s growing acceptability in these two states and wonder why Rahul Gandhi has failed to generate similar interest in the heartland.

“There is no section of society that was not humiliated and tormented by the Shiv Sena, and both the brothers (cousins Raj and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray) are pursuing the same policy,” Ahmed said.

“They targeted Gujaratis, Marwaris, south Indians, Muslims and then people from Bihar and UP. Modi, who is concentrating on Bihar and UP, is the best ally of Raj Thackeray and the BJP is a Sena partner.”

Congress leaders had predicted doom for the BJP in Bihar after the snapping of its alliance with the Janata Dal (United), arguing it could not win seats in the state on its own.

Months on, the picture has changed drastically and the BJP is seen as the frontrunner in Bihar.

A Congress leader tried to explain why the two Senas’ campaigns against Hindi speakers had not become an electoral issue in Bihar.

“The people of Bihar get angry when news about violence reaches here from Mumbai. But they also have to assess politics on other, larger issues that affect their daily existence,” he told The Telegraph over the phone.

“Forward-caste people are largely supporting the BJP: every day, they feel isolated under Janata Dal (United) rule. The same happened under Lalu Prasad’s rule.”

In Uttar Pradesh too, the immediate concerns about misrule by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party appear to override the distant worries of Sena hostility.

The Congress has anyway done little in Bihar in the past decade to reclaim lost ground. It has also ignored Uttar Pradesh to a large extent.

Ahmed took a dig at the squabbles within the BJP, asking why its senior leaders were scrambling for safer seats if a Modi wave was indeed sweeping across the heartland.

“Party president Rajnath Singh himself is not sure of victory from his constituency, Ghaziabad — what kind of a ‘wave’ is this?” he asked.

He taunted Modi for his purported inability to decide a seat for himself.

Reporters asked why the Congress had resorted to frantic poll management in Amethi, sending potential spoilsport Sanjay Singh — party MP from neighbouring Sultanpur — to the Rajya Sabha from Assam and fielding his wife Amita from Sultanpur.

“Those decisions had nothing to do with Rahul’s candidature,” Ahmed said. “He has not changed his seat.”