UP elections a tough challenge for Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi:  Rahul Gandhi, who turned 41 on Sunday, faces challenging times ahead with Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls not far away.

Gandhi has set his eyes on Uttar Pradesh where Assembly polls are due in a year`s time to help his party capture power in a state where he led revival of the organisation by securing 22 of the 80 seats in Parliamentary elections in 2009.

After nearly four decades of virtually uninterrupted rule, Congress is in political wilderness in the state since 1989 in the wake of the Mandal and the Mandir surge.

Gandhi is being projected by the party as the potential Prime Minister and future leader with senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh noting that he has all the "qualities and capabilities" that are needed for a "good" Prime Minister. (Watch)

The year gone by was not good for Gandhi as Congress fared poorly in Assembly polls in Bihar despite the young leader virtually leading the campaign there. In Tamil Nadu too, Congress turned a flop even though he campaigned and also made a pitch for some young candidates.

In Kerala, his attack on V S Achutanandan may have turned counterproductive with the CPM-led Left Front almost returning to power. The Congress-led UDF managed to secure power by a wafer-thin majority.

The attack on Achuthanandan earned him a sobriquet of "Amul Baby", which the Congress resented.

Digvijay Singh, who is in-charge of party affairs in UP, insists that "Uttar Pradesh is not Bihar" as an organisation is in place in UP unlike in Bihar where the party secured just four out of the 243 seats.

Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh disagrees. He feels that the battle in UP is between his party and the BSP. National parties like Congress and BJP will have to play a second fiddle.

Seeking to retain power, Chief Minister Mayawati is leaving no stone unturned to reach out to people and has already announced her candidates for all the 403 Assembly seats.

The 2007 elections in the state are considered a defining moment in Indian politics with BSP led by Mayawati singlehandedly securing majority. Congress had won just 20-odd seats.

BJP has sought to revive the temple issue with party president Nitin Gadkari talking of ushering "Ramrajya" in Uttar Pradesh claiming that people are fed up with Mayawati`s "goondraj" and Mulayam Singh Yadav`s "jungle raj".

BJP which ruled Uttar Pradesh 10 years back secured the poor fourth position in the last Lok Sabha elections behind the 22 seats each of Congress and the Samajwadi Party and 16 of the BSP.

Detractors of Congress say that the road ahead is not easy for Congress as four Assembly bypolls after the Lok Sabha elections have seen the party biting dust.

Gandhi`s recent agitation at Bhatta Parsaul in Greater Noida has stirred up things politically with Mayawati going great guns to attack Congress.

The AICC has already declared that there is no question of alliance with any major party like the SP and BSP and there could be tie-ups with smaller parties.

A section of the Congress is feeling that the party should join hands with the Samajwadi Party.

Party veterans like Vasant Sathe have only recently underlined the need for Priyanka Vadra to become active in politics and party chief Sonia Gandhi along with Priyanka and Rahul embark on a mass contact programme.