On the eve of a key two-day strategy-making convention of the Congress Uttar Pradesh unit in Varanasi, preparatory to the Assembly elections in 2012, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is to deliver the inaugural speech there, appears to have set the cat among the pigeons in that State.
Mr. Gandhi's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday along with a group of aggrieved farmers from Greater Noida has drawn fire from the Mayawati government. The U.P. government has rubbished the memorandum that Mr. Gandhi and the farmers presented to the Prime Minister, saying the atrocities — rape, murder, burning of houses, not to mention a pit filled with human bones — listed in it have been concocted.
The Congress on Tuesday responded to the U.P. government, saying that if nothing untoward had occurred in the villages of Greater Noida, why were journalists, members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and politicians not being allowed to enter them? If the government had nothing to hide, why was it averse to a judicial inquiry or an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the complaints made by the locals?
“The villagers of Bhatta-Parsaul are crying out for justice: men are missing, women have been molested — even the children have not been spared,” party spokesperson Manish Tewari said, adding, “If the Uttar Pradesh government feels everything is hunky-dory there, why is it not permitting a CBI investigation or a judicial inquiry there?”
The confrontation with the Mayawati government over the issue of “repression of farmers” will set the mood for Wednesday's convention, at which the blueprint for Mission Uttar Pradesh 2012 will be decided.
Party sources say the Congress also plans to intensify its campaign against the U.P. government by holding a party rally in Chief Minister Mayawati's village, Badalpur, early next month to highlight the issue of corruption and atrocities against Dalits. The village falls in Gautam Budh Nagar district, where farmers' protests are giving the administration sleepless nights.
The Congress has been out of power in U.P. since 1989, and is hoping to take forward the results of the Lok Sabha polls of 2009: in those elections, after a long drought, it won 22 Lok Sabha seats, ahead of all its three competitors, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. That election also came two years after the BSP's spectacular showing in 2007, when it won a handsome majority in the Assembly elections.
The convention, therefore, will see top party leaders strategising with workers for next year's Assembly elections. The Congress plans to go it alone, though party sources added that they have not ruled out tying up with smaller parties in the State, such as Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The party also hopes to release its first list of candidates for the Assembly polls in a month's time — if that happens, it will be a first for the party, which is notorious for last-minute nominations.
The valedictory speech at the convention on May 19 will be given by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This will be followed by a public rally at Beniabagh, to be addressed by, among others, party general secretary Digvijay Singh.