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Did Congress’ Muslim strategy help the BJP in UP polls?

The early seat trends — with BJP overtaking Congress by 2:1 — seem to indicate that the Congress Party’s strategy of trying to play to the Muslim population has misfired.

While the Congress was widely expected to come third in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, going by the early trends, it is turning up as a distant fourth.

In addition, the BJP, which was unanimously expected to be either third or fourth, has trumped expectations to turn out second. BSP, widely expected to be second, has instead been pushed back to the third place.

According to the latest results, the BJP led in 62 seats while the Congress-RLD combine led in just 25. The BSP led in 50, while SP was on the forefront in 110.

“I think the minority card has backfired on the Congress,” pointed out an election analyst. “On the one hand, it didn’t help the Congress as the community seems to have stuck to its traditional race horse of the Samajwadi Party, and on the other, it seems to have prompted many Hindu voters to back the BJP,” he added.

The BJP has traditionally sold itself to voters as a party that takes care of the interests of the majority, or Hindu, community. In contrast, SP has looked out for the interests of the middle castes (or OBCs) and Muslims, and the BSP, that of the Dalits or the most backward castes.

The Congress, which used to have a traditional Muslim-Upper Caste Hindu-Dalit ‘formula’, has found its vote-base splintered over the past 15 years with the emergence of the two regional parties and the BJP.

It had, under its general secretary Rahul Gandhi, tried to desperately win back its standing among the Muslim communities of the state which contribute about 16-18% of the total votes.

The Congress party had brought to the fore issues such as the Batla House encounter — in which two persons suspected of being Islamist Terrorists were killed — and a reservation for Muslims and other minorities in Uttar Pradesh government jobs.

The issues, while not seemingly helpful to the Congress in the current election, seem to have bolstered support for the BJP.

The Congress was also handicapped by the relentless attacks from Team Anna, a coalition of social activists led by Anna Hazare. The team had felt ‘cheated’ by the Congress party after it failed to pass a strong anti-corruption bill as promised.

The Congress also seems to have paid a price for letting the police attack a camp set up by a Hindu teacher, Baba Ramdev, in the middle of the night, leading to a death and several injuries. The episode was followed by the spectacle of an emotional Baba, clad in ladies’ costumes, making accusations against the Congress Party on live TV, while breaking down as he recounted his ordeal.

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