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'UP Jodo Yatra' to Start from Saharanpur on Dec 20; Aimed at Consolidating Muslim-Dalit Votes?

Senior party leaders such as Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have also been invited and may join the march at some point.

Image courtesy: PTI

Lucknow: After Bharat Jodo Yatra led by MP Rahul Gandhi from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh Congress is gearing up for 'UP Jodo Yatra' in a bid to regain its lost ground in the state as the party prepares to show its strength ahead of the 2024 general elections.

The foot march campaign will start on December 20 from Saharanpur in Western UP and culminate in Sitapur of Awadh region, reaching out to the general public to make them aware of the "anti-people" and "anti-farmer" policies and ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, UPCC president Ajay Rai said.

According to the party president, the 'UP Jodo Yatra' will pass through Western UP districts of Moradabad, Meerut, Bareilly, Bijnor, and others before concluding at Naimisharanya in Sitapur on Makar Sankranti, marking a 25-day tour led by Ajay Rai.

Senior party leaders such as Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have also been invited and may join the march at some point.

Several Congress leaders, including Nirmal Khatri, Salman Khurshid, Ajay Lallu, Brijlal Khabri, Zafar Ali Naqvi, etc., have been given significant responsibilities for the foot march.

The reason behind beginning the march from the minority-dominated district of Saharanpur and concentrating on Western Uttar Pradesh is the Congress' strategy of consolidating the dalit and Muslim support (Dalits, Muslims, and Jats form the three prime voter groups in Western UP). It has also recently received support on this front from the inclusion of well-known minority leaders from Western Uttar Pradesh, such as Imran Masood and Ahmed Hamid.

Senior journalists and political analysts believe the grand old party wants to ensure the preparations are started at the earliest in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll for a good show.

"More than consolidating the Muslim-Dalit vote bank in western UP, the Congress looks to be intruding into the core vote bank of the BJP," commented a political analyst.

“Other Backward Classes and dalits have been the traditional voters of the BJP, and if the Congress is able to cut into their vote, the saffron party could be in trouble,” said Kubul Qureshi, a senior journalist who has been covering Uttar Pradesh politics, speaking to NewsClick.

When asked about the impact of 'UP Jodo Yatra' in the state, he said, "Congress has no political base of its own in Uttar Pradesh, but after Bharat Jodo Yatra, a pattern is being seen that Muslim voters are leaving regional parties and shifting towards Congress again. Recent civic poll results in Delhi demonstrate that the Congress is gaining some of the Muslim votes it had lost. Even in Karnataka, Muslims have left JDS and voted unilaterally for Congress. Muslim voters in Karnataka opted for Congress' Hindu candidate over JDS’s Muslim candidate in minority-dominated areas. The reason is Congress, and especially Rahul Gandhi, is vocal against Bajrang Dal, RSS and took a stand for the Hijab issue and other issues related to Muslims."

He added, "Congress was at number two position in UP Municipal elections where the grand old party does not have a single MLA. If Samajwadi Party (SP) had not contested the elections, Congress would have won, although the voting pattern is slightly different in Municipal elections. The impact of Bharat Jodo Yatra was also seen in Telangana Assembly election where Muslims voted for Congress wholeheartedly except from the Hyderabad area."

The areas through which 'UP Jodo Yatra' will pass are mostly Muslim-majority areas and it is in these seats that Congress had performed better in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, says Qureshi.

Another political analyst, speaking to NewsClick, said, "The BJP wants to consolidate one of the largest communities in UP and the core voter of SP – the Yadavs. Therefore, Congress is trying to consolidate Muslim votes as BSP chief Mayawati has recently said she would ally with the party who can transfer votes and Congress is trying for the same to do an alliance with BSP."

Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Hilal Ahmed Naqvi said that senior officials during the foot march will interact with wood artisans and traders in Saharanpur, jaggery traders in Muzaffarnagar, sugarcane farmers in Bijnor and Amroha, brass sellers in Moradabad, and the bamboo industry in Bareilly. In Lakhimpur Kheri, there will be a gathering with the Tharu tribe's members.

"We'll get together with the related businessmen to talk about their issues, and their solutions will be included in the Congress manifesto ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims have mostly voted for the Samajwadi Party (SP) over the last several years. This was evident in the 2022 Assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

However, the Congress leadership senses that the party can have an upper hand in the 2024 polls with its message that "only the Congress can work to defeat the BJP on the national stage," given that SP is a regional party.

The 2022 Assembly polls saw 111 SP MLAs getting elected in the 403-member House, of whom 32 were Muslim faces. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, of the five seats that the SP won out of 80 seats in the state, three were won by Muslim candidates – Azam Khan (Rampur), ST Hasan (Moradabad), and Shafiqur Rehman Barq (Sambhal). The other two seats were won by the party founder late Mulayam Singh Yadav (Mainpuri) and president Akhilesh Yadav (Azamgarh –lost to the BJP later in a bypoll).

However, it is said that some Muslims have grown resentful of SP for "staying increasingly quiet on issues pertaining to the community." Critics of SP also point to the "wrongful action against the tallest UP Muslim leader Azam Khan and his family" as evidence that the party does not speak out enough on "Muslim issues." Many had hoped for a "stronger response," even though Akhilesh had spoken out in favour of the Azam family.

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