Lucknow: Even as the by election outcome in Gorakhpur and Phulpur handed a lifeline to the Samajwadi Party and the BSP and sent the ruling BJP into a tailspin, the fate of the Congress, which ruled Uttar Pradesh for over five decades, remains uncertain.
While both Congress candidates forfeited their security deposit and the party leadership has been slammed for not aligning with the SP-BSP, what must worry the party is the continuing erosion of its vote share. Having unsuccessfully aligned with the Samajwadi Party in the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress finds itself on political crossroads as the BSP, Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have also distanced themselves from it and are leaning towards the Samajwadi Party, with its leader Akhilesh Yadav becoming the pivot of opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh
A rout a year before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls also exposes the faultline in the state leadership of the Congress and the fact that its organizational structure across the state is in tatters. Congress' traditional supporters rue that its leadership refuses to read the writing on the wall. Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar terms the victory of the Samajwadi Party from Gorakhpur and Phulpur with the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party a "len-den ka gathjod" (give and take alliance).
But other party leaders say the party has some serious thinking to do if it wants to make its presence felt in the Hindi heartland. "We are neither in sync with like-minded parties not with the people," said a party veteran, adding the Congress has no chance of revival ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha battle in the country's most populous state.
In Phulpur, which sent India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Lok Sabha in 1952, Congress fortunes have hit rock bottom, with its candidate Manish Mishra garnering only 19,353 votes. Even in the 2014 election, despite a Modi wave, its candidate, former cricketer Mohammad Kaif, secured 58,127 votes.
Yet jailed mafia-don-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmad got 48,094 votes in the constituency in this election. The Gorakhpur outcome shows the Congress is facing an existential crisis in the state. In Gorakhpur, where the BJP's 29-year uninterrupted rule was ended by the Samajwadi Party, the Congress votes shrunk to 18,848 and its candidate Surhita Kareem lost her deposit.
In 2014, Congress' Ashtbhuja Prasad Tripathi got 45,917 votes. Party spokesman Virendra Madan admits the results are worrying but adds that "casteist alliance" undid the Congress. Party cadres are angry that the party leadership did not even send its central leaders to campaign. "All the campaigning was left to Raj Babbar."
The last time the party did well in then undivided Uttar Pradesh was in 1985 when it won a whopping 269 seats in the Assembly. Since then, the march to the bottom has been relentless. Between 1985 and 1989, the party nosedived to 94 seats. It slipped again in 1991, with just 46 seats, and further to 28 seats in 1993. In 1996, it bagged 33 seats, won 25 in 2002 and 22 in 2007, when the BSP led by Mayawati romped home with 204 seats.
Despite its best efforts, the Congress has failed to emerge out of the shadows of the Samajwadi Party and BSP. In the Lok Sabha, the Congress has just two members -- Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi from Amethi -- from Uttar Pradesh. If the Congress wants to recover lost ground in its one-time bastion, its leadership needs to shrug off its arrogance and the disconnect with the electorate, say party veterans. With just a year remaining for the 2019 Lok Sabha battle, the sooner the better, they say.