Lucknow: Sonia Gandhi launched her party’s campaign on Tuesday with a show of strength in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, where elections will be held early next year.
She stood in an SUV, waving to the thousands of people who gathered as her cavalcade of cars drove slowly through the streets of the temple town in a 6.5 km road show to signal that her party means business in UP, swept by the BJP in national elections two years ago.
As he waited for Sonia Gandhi to arrive in Varanasi on Monday morning, the Congress’s new state chief Raj Babbar admitted candidly, “Yes we need a chamatkaar (miracle) in Uttar Pradesh,” also adding, “but it has happened in the past too, even 2014 was a miracle for our opponents and we are hoping there will be a miracle this time too.”
The Congress hopes to reverse this time its trend of placing last in elections in Uttar Pradesh and has rejigged its team for the election, bringing in Mr Babbar and naming former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate, with election strategist Prashant Kishor designing the campaign.
Mrs Gandhi is expected to launch an attack on PM Modi and the BJP in her Dard-e-Banaras (the pain of Varanasi) rally, which the Congress says highlights a lack of development in the VIP constituency.
She will also attack UP’s ruling Samajwadi Party as both national parties, the Congress and the BJP make aggressive bids this time to win the state in what is being seen as semi-final before the 2019 national election.
Varanasi is in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP did not fare very well in the last assembly election and the Congress hopes to make inroads in the region.
The BJP hopes to extend its victory in 2014, when it had won 71 of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats. The Congress could win only two. In the state assembly it holds only 28 seats.
“Uttar Pradesh is already Congress-mukt (Congress-free) now, no road show will help,” said BJP’s state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya.