Lucknow: In the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots and the jailing of Rajya Sabha member Rashid Masood for graft, the Congress is faced with a double whammy in western Uttar Pradesh. Party leaders admit that its equation with the Rashtriya lok Dal (RLD) hangs in "delicate and uneasy balance" as the alliance partner too seems to have lost favour among the Jats, a crucial votebank in the area.
Admitting to two big blows, a senior Congress leader said the party was still undecided on whether to go into the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with Ajit Singh's RLD. "We are factoring everything in the area and have to admit that two crucial votebanks of the Congress-RLD combine - Muslims and Jats - have been weaned away from us," the leader told IANS, requesting anonymity.
He noted that the Muslims were seething in anger at being "let down by the Congress" for not acting tough against the Akhilesh Yadav government in the state for its role in the riots that killed 62 and rendered thousands homeless. "We have always hinged on regional players in the region and the going has just got tougher for us," the leader rued.
Congress strategists admit that piggybacking on union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh's party would not fetch votes any more. The realization has dawned within the party that the Jats will shift towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owing to "severe polarization on communal lines" and the association with RLD would only prove a "vote-deficit exercise".
The RLD had aligned with the state's ruling Samajwadi Party in 2004 and with the BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. It currently holds five seats in western UP - Ajit Singh (Baghpat), Jayant Chaudhary (Mathura), Devendra Nagpal (Amroha), Sarika Singh (Hathras) and Sanjay Singh Chauhan (Bijnor).
The Congress' plans to cash in on the land acquisition and food security bills in this region for now, appear to be a non-starter.
Added to the seething anger among the Muslims after the Muzaffarnagar riots, Congress sources say the leadership was banking on Masood to "tap the anger against the Samajwadi Party and turn it into some goodwill for the Congress." The well-laid plans have been singed by the recent court verdict sentencing Masood - a three-time Rajya Sabha MP, a former union minister and an unsuccessful vice presidential candidate - to four years in prison.
(According to Congress leader Rashid Alvi, the Muzaffarnagar violence was worse than the 2002 Gujarat riots in which over 1,000 people, maintly Muslims, died.)
The Congress's electoral mathematics were largely hinged on the farmer-Muslim combine in western Uttar Pradesh, to be tapped through the Ajit Singh-Rashid Masood factor, a senior party functionary pointed out. This now seems unlikely as one is in jail and the other has run out of favour amongst his own community.
Masood's nephew and political heir, Imran Masood, who parted ways with him some time ago, was declared the Samajwadi Party candidate from Saharanpur (for the 2014 poll) within two days of his uncle's conviction September 19. Congress leaders admit that Masood's jailing has indeed come as a body blow to the party's aspirations in western Uttar Pradesh.