As per the Election Commission data, 1998 was the lowest point for the Congress when it was completely routed from the state and received only 6.02 per cent of the total votes polled. In the Lok Sabha poll in 1999, the party bagged 10 seats and its winning percentage slightly improved to 13.16 per cent.
This time the gamble of going it alone in the Lok Sabha election after failing to strike a pre-poll understanding with the Samajwadi Party has paid off for the Congress. The state has the largest number of Lok Sabha seats at 80.
"The party high command's decision to contest the elections on its own has paid rich dividend in the state," a senior party leader here said. It is also for the first time in over two decades that the once leading player in the state is making its presence felt in constituencies outside the Gandhi bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
"This is apparently due to the relentless pursuits, planning and campaigning by Rahul Gandhi [ Images ] with the aim to building the party at the grassroot level," according to Congress leaders.
Often mocked for its successive failures at the hustings, the Congress had even failed to finalise the 80 candidates in the state.
The party fielded only 69 nominees leaving four seats for lesser-known regional partners and two, in a reciprocatory move, for the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav [ Images ] and his son Akhilesh Yadav in Mainpuri and Kannuaj constituencies respectively.
The Congress had in 2004 won nine Lok Sabha seats fielding 73 candidates and though the state Congress leaders had expected some improvement, their estimates had not been more than around 15 seats.
"After the last assembly election in 2007 when the BSP had won on the plank of social engineering, the Congress had identified some seats and sounded some prospective candidates to start work in their respective constituencies and it is in these areas that we have been able to make major gains," Congress sources said.
"It were these seats we were worried about while negotiating with the SP for seat adjustment as we were sure of our support base in these constituencies and in case we had decided on a paltry 12 seats that were being offered to us by the SP, we would have wiped out from these areas", the sources said.
"On the conservative side we had hoped to win around 13 seats and this performance goes on to show that the UPA policies and programmes for the welfare of all sections of society have found favour with the electorate," they said.
"The improvement in the tally also goes on to prove that the days of national parties are back as caste-based politics has proved to be detrimental for the development of the state in the past twenty years," they said.
The party's turnaround is being attributed to Congress managing to wean away some of the Muslim, upper caste, backward as also the scheduled caste sections which had earlier been its vote bank but had later been lapped up by the satraps.