Congress runs out of membership forms in Uttar Pradesh

By Khalid Akhter, IANS,

New Delhi : For the first time in decades, the Congress is running out of membership forms in Uttar Pradesh as scores line up to enrol for admission into a party that is seeking to reclaim India’s most populous state where it made a dramatic revival in the Lok Sabha elections three months ago.

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“Our membership drive is generating unexpected response. So much so that we have fallen short of membership books,” said Akhilesh Pratap Singh, the Congress spokesperson in Uttar Pradesh.

In desperation, the Congress has introduced online membership forms, Singh told IANS.

To attract youngsters, party general secretary Rahul Gandhi is on a talent hunt. Gandhi, who knows that Uttar Pradesh holds the key to New Delhi, has declared that he will work aggressively to build up the party in the state. And that in turn is boosting the Congress membership drive.

After stunning friends and foes by winning 21 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats in May, the Congress is determined to make a strong bid for power when elections to the 403-seat state assembly are held in 2012 .

Rahul Gandhi, at 38 the rising star of the party, has realised that the time has come to bring back to the fold the millions who deserted it two decades ago. But, for that, the Congress will need people who will park themselves in all parts of the sprawling state and propagate the ideology of a party that for years was the dominant factor in Uttar Pradesh politics.

The Congress organisation has been in a shambles for years. This is where the membership drive comes in. The Congress now boasts of 6.2 million members in Uttar Pradesh — in a state of 166 million people. Each new member pays an entry fee of Rs.3, a measly amount in today’s age.

These new members will form the grassroot support base. They will elect block-level members who in turn will pick state level office- bearers of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC).

According to Akhilesh Singh, the Congress has not said how many members it wants to recruit and by when. “But we want to increase our membership substantially,” he said.

Instead of waiting till the assembly elections are announced, the Congress wants to unleash its young and famous MPs across the state to rejuvenate the party. The Youth Congress, which Rahul Gandhi oversees, is part of the drive.

“The party is carving out a strategy to use young MPs to tour the state in a phased manner to mobilise party workers and take the message and work of the party to the voters,” Nadeem Javed, national general secretary of the Youth Congress, told IANS.

Javed said that Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Jyotiraditya Scindia as well as former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin will be among those who will travel to all parts of Uttar Pradesh.

And so will Rahul Gandhi, widely considered the architect of the surprise Congress victory in the Lok Sabha battle.

With a rainbow coalition of Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins, the Congress had ruled the state since independence until 1967 when it lost power for the first time. It was voted out again in 1977.

The Congress returned to office in 1980 and ruled until 1989 when a cocktail of Hindu nationalist and caste-based politics severely eroded its support base.

In no time the Congress became an also-ran, struggling to win even 30 seats in an assembly where it once ruled the roost.

All that changed dramatically in the recent Lok Sabha elections when the Congress, guided by Rahul Gandhi, emerged the second largest party winning 21 seats, just one seat behind the Samajwadi Party.

The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) finished third while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won only 10 seats.

The Congress hopes to repeat this feat in the assembly elections. For this the party plans to wrap up organisational elections by December 2009.

(Khalid Akhter can be contacted at [email protected])