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Verdict 2009: Rahul UP and rising

By Jyoti Malhotra
May 16, 2009 18:05 IST
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The day belonged to Congress president Sonia Gandhi -- wearing a bright orange-red Mangalagiri sari, the auspicious colour -- and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his trademark white kurta-pyjama and blue turban.

But when they came out on Saturday afternoon to talk to the Press, there was space for one more man in the photo-op : Rahul Gandhi, until his press conference about two weeks ago condemned as a precocious dynast and until this morning, as the man given to making decisions for the Congress party without the experience to accompany them.

But by noon on Saturday, when it was clear that the Congress-led alliance had spectacularly swept the polls, there was one other achievement that still needed to be properly understood : The Congress party's shock victories in Uttar Pradesh.

And the man behind the Congress decision to go it alone in UP: Rahul Gandhi.

It was Rahul who decided that the Congress should shed all its alliance partners in Uttar Pradesh and fight the battle all by itself. He was censured, villified and criticised -- all sotto voce, of course, because no one dare criticize the scion of the Congress party -- for the decision, the common argument being that it was 'much too late' to undertake such a massive reinvention in a state the Congress had more or less ceded about 14 years ago.

Old timers in the Congress said when the party decided to ally with the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1995 in Uttar Pradesh, there was a real reason behind the decision.

In the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Congress party had taken a real beating in the state. The only way to claw back into public perception would be to ally with another party that was beginning to make its presence felt in the state.

But over the years, with one thing or another, the Congress presence in the state got increasingly marginalised. Other regional parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party, the other national party, began to take over the politics of the state.

But according to the pro-Rahul Gandhi point of view, it was high time that the Congress, the grand old party, returned to its rightful place in UP. After all, the battle for India was traditionally fought on these plains, and with 80 seats Uttar Pradesh was the straight road to Delhi.

According to this school of thought, which included Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh, the party would seek to reorganise itself in Uttar Pradesh and fight the battle alone.

"Rahul is not in a hurry. He believes he has time on his side. He wants to fight the battle in the long term, and believes the only way to do it is to reinvent the organisation," said an aide of Rahul Gandhi on the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh a couple of weeks ago.

Even during his now-famous press conference, Rahul insisted that the party needed to be organised from the grassroots upwards and that he was not going to rest until he did so.

Election 2009 has vindicated Rahul Gandhi's point of view. Whether he sits in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet or not, the space in the photo-op will soon be filled.

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Jyoti Malhotra