The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cloud on Congress heartland drive

New Delhi, May 24: The Congress might have to rework its revival plan for Uttar Pradesh following the Centre’s decision last night to introduce reservation for the Other Backward Classes in higher education.

The party can no longer be sure of winning over Brahmins, which was central to its strategy for recovering lost ground in the heartland state that goes to the polls next year.

“The Brahmins, who constitute about 8 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh, are the only category yet to decide its political preference. The Congress has been of the opinion that this situation can be exploited for the party’s revival. In fact, this has formed the core of the strategy for the next Assembly elections,” a senior Congress leader said.

Now, the 27 per cent quota for OBCs might change all that. In the absence of any front-ranking OBC leaders in the state, the party cannot hope to cash in on the reservation to win over backward class votes either.

In the last Assembly elections, Brahmins had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP but they have since been tilting towards the Dalit-dominated Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) mainly for lack of options. BSP leader Mayavati has reciprocated by organising “Brahman Mahasammelans” and calling for a Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin axis ' which once formed the Congress’s support base in the state ' to defeat the Samajwadi Party and the BJP.

“It is still an incomplete process. No doubt the Brahmins have softened towards the BSP, but they are yet to become Mayavati’s voters. If a rejuvenated Congress is offered as an alternative in Uttar Pradesh, they will come back to it,” the Congress leader said.

Sources said it is this assessment that had led the party to smell a chance of revival if the leadership crisis could be solved by handing over charge of the state to Rahul Gandhi, scion of the family held in high esteem by Brahmins who were once staunch Congress supporters.

The party’s calculation was that if it could win back the Brahmins, its vote share would go up from 9 per cent in the last Assembly elections to 15 per cent. In terms of seats, this could mean a jump from 24 to about 50.

In politically-fractured Uttar Pradesh, 50 MLAs could make the Congress kingmaker which is as good as a revival given that the party is now a non-entity.

But the quota row has turned all calculations upside down, with the party fearing that the decision to reserve seats for OBCs in central educational institutions will alienate the upper castes.

Neither Rahul’s statement saying there is merit in the arguments both for and against reservations nor the government’s promise to keep general-category seats intact can undo the damage, it feels. Even the decision to introduce the quota from June next year ' by when the election will be over ' is unlikely to help because the upper castes in north India are already ruffled.

Sources said there is panic in the party, with a section blaming HRD minister Arjun Singh for upsetting its revival plans. In the absence of a strong line of backward caste leaders, the Congress knows it is hardly in a position to compensate for this loss by using reservations to woo OBC voters, who appear to have already decided in favour of regional parties.

Months before the election, therefore, the Congress finds that its Plan A for Uttar Pradesh and Rahul’s launch on to a higher stage is under threat and Plan B is nowhere in sight.

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