LUCKNOW: The first phase of polling in parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh on February 8 will be an acid test for Rahul Gandhi’s new acolytes in their effort to bring the Congress back to power after a hiatus of 22 years in the state.
Rahul’s main soldiers in the state include Union Minister for Steel Beni Prasad Verma, whose advice is given due weightage, and P L Punia, MP from Barabanki (R), who is a key adviser in matters relating to scheduled caste - a strong vote bank. In Faizabad, Nirmal Khatri is a pillar of strength for Rahul, in Domariaganj, Jagdambika Pal; in Behraich (R), Kamal Kishore; and Vinay Kumar Pandey in Shrawasti.
It will be a tough ride for the Congress in 55 Assembly constituencies in the first phase spread over 10 districts in Sitapur, Barabanki, Basti, Gonda, Bahraich, Balrampur, Faizabad, Ambedkarnagar, Siddharthnagar and Shrawasti.
In the last Assembly elections in 2007, the Congress managed a miserable three seats out of 55.
This region will also decide the future of 15 former ministers, three ministers and 31 MLAs.
Rahul’s brigade has a critical role to play in his ‘Mission 2012’ revival of the Congress in UP. From ticket distribution to policy making, Rahul’s new commanders have played a crucial role and among the lot Beni Prasad enjoys a close proximity with Rahul.
It was on Beni’s insistence that the Congress aggressively played the OBC card while ignoring upper castes. Beni faces a tough test in his home district Barabanki where his son Rakesh Verma is locked in a fierce battle in Dariyaganj Assembly constituency.
Many leaders and workers are so envious of Beni’s growing closeness with Rahul that the local leader had been heckled during his public address.