Row over Muslim quota cited for Cong defeat in UP

New Delhi: A weak organisation, controversy over Muslim subquota in jobs and union ministers speaking "out of turn" were among the reasons that led to the debacle of Congress in recent Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Rahul Gandhi, who had led the party in the polls, heard these and other reasons today as he set out on the first review of the poll defeat. Gandhi held parleys with party candidates, who lost despite securing more than 20,000 votes, on the first day of a two-day exercise aimed at making the party battle-ready for the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

The Congress leader was told by the 150-odd defeated candidates that the party lacked a strong organisation in the state as compared to SP and BSP which have dominated the politics of Uttar Pradesh for over a decade. Some Union Ministers also came in for attack with several of those, who interacted with Rahul, complaining about the manner in which the state leaders were resorting to one upmanship.

The late announcement of the subquota for backward Muslims and the campaign Congress` rivals that it was "anti-OBC" had hurt Congress doubly as it antagonised both the minorities as well as the backwards, said some of the leaders from the state. Several of the candidates hailed Gandhi for the leading the campaign from the front which they said resulted in the ouster of BSP from power with Samajwadi Party becoming the main beneficiary.

Congress secured just 28 of the 403 seats in the polls, six more than it had bagged in the Assembly polls of 2007. The Congress candidates felt their impression after today`s meeting was that their services would be better utilised in the days to come by the party while setting its house in order in the politically most crucial state. Gandhi, who had owned up responsibility for the party`s electoral defeat, remained mostly a listener as he heard virtually each and every candidate giving his feedback over the poll performance.

AICC Secretary Avinash Pande assisted Gandhi in the exercise where party General Secretary Digvijay Singh was not present despite being in-charge of the party affairs in the state. Singh is at present abroad. Senior leader Mohan Prakash, who had overseen ticket distribution in the polls, was also absent. As part of the exercise, the candidates were asked a set of questions including how much help they got from the Mahila Congress, Youth Congress and the local unit. Some candidates expressed the hope that the feedback would be utilised by the party to take corrective steps.

Mati-ur-Rehman said the controversy over the issue of 4.5 per cent Muslim quota had hit the party badly. Louise Khurshid, wife of Union Minister Salman Khurshid, who finished fifth from Farrukhabad constituency, was also among the candidates who met Gandhi. He said the last-minute decision on the quota and the party`s failure to reach out to the people affected Congress as both Muslims and backwards had serious doubts about the party`s stand on the subquota move.

Congress` campaign had witnessed several Union Ministers including Salman Khurshid, Beni Prasad Verma and Sriprakash Jaiswal making controversial comments ranging from the issue of Muslim quota to the possibility of imposition of President`s rule in the state. Surendra Goyal, former MP and defeated candidate from Ghaziabad, expressed the confidence that the party leadership would take action against those who had "violated" discipline.

Congress is in political wilderness in Uttar Pradesh for the past 22 years in the wake of the Mandal and Mandir surge. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 compounded the problems for the party. The party secured 22 of the 80 seats in the Lok Sabha polls in the state in 2009 which was seen as a revival of the organisation. Party MLAs as also MPs from the state have been called tomorrow to the meeting.