Sonia's Varanasi roadshow shows the Congress's burden is still on her shoulders
Congress President Sonia Gandhi launched her Uttar Pradesh campaign in style today, complete with large crowds, motorcades, bikers and symbolic floral tributes. Party workers indeed descended in large numbers in a bid to add weight to the rally. However, the overall mood appeared indicative of a lukewarm response, the workers just appearing to fulfill a duty as asked by senior party-men.
In picture after picture of the roadshow, party workers can be seen walking like factory workers returning after a full day at work, tired and looking forward to return home. On their faces, there is hardly any expression of pride at escorting their national president, let alone enthusiasm to make the party win the forthcoming polls.
In fact, the crowds too, at many places, seem not as large as to match the adjectives the party has used - "grand welcome", "ocean of people", "wave of change", "Kashi swelling", among others. It is too early to say whether this is a sign of how Congress will eventually end up performing in the polls, but these images do expose an uninspired party unit in the state. The crowd did swell towards the end of the day, though, and that is indeed a measure of support the party is attracting.
The 6.5 km roadshow began from the Circuit House and meandered through areas like Lahurabeer Chauraha, Ambedkar Chauraha, Naadesar, Chowka Ghat, City Inter-College, Peeli Kothi and Kabir Chauraha. Many other top Congress leaders were in attendance, including chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit, UP Congress chief Raj Babbar, General Secretary in charge of UP Ghulam Nabi Azad and head of the campaign committee Sanjay Sinh
The 6.5 km roadshow began from the Circuit House and meandered through areas like Lahurabeer Chauraha, Ambedkar Chauraha, Naadesar, Chowka Ghat, City Inter-College, Peeli Kothi and Kabir Chauraha. Many other top Congress leaders were in attendance, including chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit, UP Congress chief Raj Babbar, General Secretary in charge of UP Ghulam Nabi Azad and head of the campaign committee Sanjay Sinh.
Also seen were PL Punia, Chairman of SC/ST Commission and Ajay Rai, who contested the Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rai was on one among 10,000 bikes that were a part of the exercise intended to be a show of strength.
Gandhi braved it all the way, of course, sitting inside her car and riding on its foot-board, by turns. Given a choice, the septuagenarian would probably have wanted to see her son in this position, not just because of the hard work involved but also because of a motherly desire to see the son shine. However, things have obviously not turned out in her party the way she would have wanted to and she appears to have accepted it. This rally once again indicated that she has readied herself to continue to carry the burden of taking the party ahead on her shoulders.
Even her courage gave way towards the end of the road show. What was meant to be a two-hour tour turned into a five-hour gruelling exercise. It took a toll on the Congress supremo and she was soon gripped by high fever. After that, she was forced to cancel the remaining part of the roadshow and was rushed to Delhi. The last lap in Varanasi, which she could not complete, included offering floral tributes at former Congress chief minister of UP Kamlapati Tripathi and a visit to the eponymous Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Another day, another illness
The fiasco had a striking similarity with a similar incident that had partially dented an earlier Congress-roadshow. Shiela Dikshit had also fallen ill during the three-day bus-tour from Delhi to Kanpur, which was flagged on July 23, and had to return to Delhi midway. With no malice towards both leaders, the two incidents do have a bearing on the party's fortunes, in terms of political messaging.
Dikshit and Gandhi are both septuagenarian leaders and appear to be ailing too. Rest is a physical requirement for them but the political interpretation of these two events is also that they are past their prime. Ideally, the next line of leadership should have taken charge by now, at least for Uttar Pradesh if not for the party's national affairs. But it is doubtful that it will work for the party's advantage that while its ageing and ailing leaders undertake arduous roadshows, its young and healthy leaders indulge in comfortable fixed-location interactions with party workers.
The Congress' plight has not gone unnoticed in its opposition's ranks. Modi's tweet wishing for Sonia's "good health" was not just a goodwill message. It was also a jibe that cleverly made fun of disruption of Gandhi's tour in his den. One does not know how Congress's workers and leaders have interpreted this. Many will argue that both Dikshit's and Gandhi's health failing them in the midst of campaigning was a mere coincidence and much should not be read into the episodes. However, the situation is indeed quite telling and is a significant comment on the Congress's strategy for UP.
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