Things will change very fast; we will be able to catch the imagination of people, says Vivek Bansal

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Fielded again despite two defeats, Vivek Bansal of the Congress is upbeat of the party’s chances in U.P.

Vivek Bansal, the Congress candidate from the Koil seat of Aligarh, in many ways, is an example of what is wrong with the party in Uttar Pradesh and tells us a thing or two about electoral politics. Immensely popular, the All Indian Congress Committee in charge of Haryana won the Aligarh seat in 2002 but since then he has been losing at the hustings from Koil. He lost the 2012 poll by just 500 votes to a Samajwadi Party candidate, while in 2017, he finished third behind the BJP and the SP.

The war horse is at it again, appealing to people to rise above polarisation in one of the most educated constituencies that will go to the polls on February 10. Observers say, apart from Mathura, the Koil seat is the only Assembly constituency where the Congress is in with a chance in the first phase. He is locked in a triangular contest with Ajju Ishaq of the Samajwadi Party and sitting MLA Anil Parashar of the BJP.

The Aligarh Muslim University is at the centre of the constituency and the electorate agrees that Mr Bansal is available for them at all hourse even 2 a.m. in the morning. As a ‘Bansal’ (vaishya) who has studied in AMU, he ticks all the caste/ secular/ accessible boxes.

After a hectic day of campaigning with Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, we asked Mr Bansal what ails the Congress at the grassroots.

Edited excerpts:

Why have you not been able to sail through despite popularity across party lines?

The city gets polarised before the voting. It’s unfortunate that education doesn’t broaden the horizon. Muslims are in substantive numbers on this seat. As they constitute 1,23,000 people in a constituency of around four lakh votes, here, the minority is always under an impression that it can make an MLA on its own and flock together.

What do you tell them?

A section of Muslims believes they can get anything done by claiming persecution. This feeling of persecution has to go. The BJP cashes on it. I keep on telling them why do you keep blaming the government for issues related to faith. Sikhs were displaced but they came up very fast.

What is the role of the Congress party’s eroding base in it?

The party is definitely weak in Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka ji is working hard. There are times when things don’t click for a party but I think it will change very fast and we will be able to catch the imagination of the people. In 2012, I lost by 500 votes. You can call it a quirk of fate or maybe overconfidence on my part. In 2017, there was a BJP wave.

Is the idea of giving 40% tickets to female candidates working on the ground?

There are some hiccups. On the face of it, it was a very revolutionary step but the groundwork for it should have been done earlier. My understanding is at some places a candidate has been put up just because she belongs to a particular gender. It doesn’t serve the purpose. It could not catch the imagination of the public.

There is an impression that it will help the Samajwadi Party by weaning away some female votes from the BJP, as Mr Modi is said to be popular among women while the SP is still struggling to wipe off the tag of the goonda party.

My sense is women are disillusioned with the BJP this time because of the price rise and hardships suffered during the pandemic. I think the move will help whichever party is in a position to defeat the BJP.

Why is theCongress not able to retain leaders like Imran Masood who can win seats?

The people who are part of Priyankaji’s team are very dedicated and honest but they lack the political touch. In U.P. Congress, deft handling of real politics is missing. Grassroots people tend to look for greener pastures, parties that have more heft. We have been out of power in the State for 31 years.

Do you think going for an alliance would have been a better bet?

No, the party is looking at a long-term perspective. In an alliance, we get 100-150 seats. It could further erode the base.

Is the free ration provided by the government hurting the Opposition?

Not too many people are getting it and there was resentment when pulses were removed from it. But I must say, overall, the distribution process has been more effective than previous governments.

The BJP is also playing the Smart City card. Aligarh is one of the beneficiaries…

In the name of Smart City, they are further ruining the city. Apart from a few crossings and widening of roads, not much has been done. It seems there is a lot of corruption happening in the name of the scheme. Roads are dug, up and filled and dug up again. There is a lack of coordination.

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