Cong lets loose Sea Wolves in UP
Congress last weekend launched its campaign for the upcoming Assembly polls in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh with its leaders designated for the job taking a bus ride from New Delhi to Kanpur. The bus was flagged off by party president Sonia Gandhi with her political heir Rahul Gandhi standing beside her.
The photographs of the event which appeared in the next day’s newspapers had some of these leaders looking out of the bus windows. One wondered did they have to do with Uttar Pradesh. Although Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sheila Dikshit are competent politicians and veterans of many political battles, Uttar Pradesh for them, for now, remains as good as a foreign territory. However, in the given situation, the party did not have many options either. They do not have very many leaders of stature left in their ranks.
Coming back to the picture of the veteran leaders taking a bus ride to Kanpur reminded me of a 1980 war film titled Sea Wolves starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, and David Niven. The plot revolved around the British Army’s Operation Creek, which had Calcutta Light Horse’s covert attack against a German merchant ship anchored at Mormugao port in Portuguese-ruled Goa, then a neutral territory.
The Calcutta Light Horse was a British Cavalry reserve raised in 1872, which was disbanded post-Independence. It largely consisted of British expatriates, who had undergone military training sometime or other in their long careers at different posts of the Raj but always “remained keen to do their bit for the empire”, at least once in their life time.
The regiment’s glory did not rest in the chest of medallions but rather in the bars named after them. The Light Horse Bar at the Saturday Club in Kolkata is named after the regiment. The club was founded in 1878 and is located on Wood Street. The bar houses a collection of regimental memorabilia. The Calcutta Light Horse Bar at the Oriental Club in London is also named after the regiment.
Nevertheless, despite the handicap of the unknown terrain and inadequate military skills of most of the volunteers who took part in the mission, Operation Creek was successful. The film had the raiding party sail around the coast in a decrepit and barely seaworthy barge; they set mines on the hull of the German ship in Goa, set the ship afire and watched as the ship sank.
There are several comparisons to be found between the plot of Sea Wolves and Congress’s campaign plan in Uttar Pradesh. The comparisons, in fact, go beyond just the protagonists of the plot. The Congress plan in the politically sensitive state, more than winning the polls, is to put paid to any chances which the BJP may have to win majority in Uttar Pradesh. It’s like trying to sink BJP’s fortunes in the same manner as the German ships anchored in Goa.
Congress Team ADB (Azad, Dikshit, and Babbar) have not begun badly. They organised a big reception from the Amausi Airport to the Pradesh Congress office a week earlier for the leadership. The new leadership could make an echo among the minorities, Brahmins and the non-Yadav OBCs. The last two communities are eyed by the BJP too. And if poll strategist Prashant Kishore manages to make the team click, the loss would be of the BJP and not of Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The Congress strategists believe that if Brahmins, who along with Muslims and Dalits had formed the traditional base of the party in its hey days, is won over, large sections of Muslims will flock back to the Congress. On the other hand, Mayawati, too, is trying to wean the Muslim voters away from Samajwadi Party and recharge her D-M (Dalit-Muslim) formula. With people talking about all possible permutations and combinations, some credit is definitely due to the Congress for having added excitement to polls.
The idea behind such road shows, as organised by the Congress, is to create a buzz at the roadside tea stalls. In fact, many in the party have started to believe that the appointment of Dikshit, a three-term Delhi Chief Minister, as the poll face has generated a considerable hum in the state and the challenge is to keep the momentum going. Taking a leaf out of the Aam Aadmi Party’s poll strategy, the Congress leaders believe that the early launch of the campaign has given them a head-start over other parties and brought the Congress to the centre of people’s political discourse. It has also helped energise the dormant Congress workers.
But the larger question remains, can the buzz would mature into a political tremor to end the party’s 27-year exile from the state. The last Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who demitted office in 1989. Dikshit for sure has had an illustrious career as Chief Minister of Delhi. Despite her name being involved in the Commonwealth Games scam, it remains a fact that development in the city has come to a standstill post her exit from the office.
But she has a larger challenge at hand in UP. In young incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, she has a rival who is not a pushover and who has the advantage of age to connect better with the voters. Mayawati continues to be confident about her presence among the Dalits, and believes her return to power a foregone conclusion. The BJP, following the stupendous performance in the Lok Sabha polls, has the best organisation in place though it woefully lacks a face.
Amidst all this, like the Sea Wolves, the Congress would have to continue thinking out of the box and it may just do enough to sink the BJP in UP to fight another battle for Delhi in 2019.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and Consulting Editor,
Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal.)