New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi, who turned 41 on Sunday, faces challenging times ahead when Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are not far away. Gandhi has set his eyes on Uttar Pradesh where he led revival of the organisation by securing 22 out of the 80 seats in Parliamentary elections in 2009.

After nearly four decades of virtually uninterrupted rule, the Congress is in political wilderness in the state since 1989 in the wake of the Mandal and the Mandir surge.

The AICC General Secretary whose birthday is being celebrated as Kisan Adhikar Diwas (Farmers' Rights Day) all over UP by the party workers and he is simultaneously projected by the party as the potential Prime Minister and future leader.

Senior leader like Digvijay Singh has stated that Rahul Gandhi has all the "qualities and capabilities" required for a "good" Prime Minister.

"I think it is time that Rahul can become the Prime Minister. Rahul is now 40 and he has been working for the party for the last seven to eight years," Singh said in Bhopal on Sunday.

The scion of Gandhi family had the right qualities, instincts and experience to take up the mantle of the Prime Ministership now, Singh added.

The year gone by was not good for Gandhi as the Congress performed poorly in Assembly polls in Bihar despite the young leader virtually leading the campaign there. In Tamil Nadu too, the Congress turned a flop even though he campaigned and also made a pitch for some young candidates.

In Kerala, his attack on V S Achutanandan may have turned counterproductive with the CPI (M)-led Left Front almost returning to power. The Congress-led UDF managed to secure power by a wafer-thin majority. The attack on Achuthanandan earned him a sobriquet of "Amul Baby", which the Congress resented. Digvijay Singh, who is in-charge of party affairs in UP, insists that "Uttar Pradesh is not Bihar" as an organisation is in place in UP unlike in Bihar where the party secured just four out of the 243 seats.

Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh disagrees. He feels that the battle in UP is between his party and the BSP. National parties like the Congress and the BJP will have to play a second fiddle.

Seeking to retain power, Chief Minister Mayawati is leaving no stone unturned to reach out to people and has already announced her candidates for all the 403 Assembly seats.

The 2007 elections in the state are considered a defining moment in Indian politics with the BSP led by Mayawati singlehandedly securing a majority. The Congress had won just 20 odd seats.

The BJP has sought to revive the temple issue with party president Nitin Gadkari talking of ushering "Ramrajya" in Uttar Pradesh claiming that people are fed up with Mayawati's "goondaraj" and Mulayam Singh Yadav's ‘jungle raj’.

The BJP which ruled Uttar Pradesh 10 years back secured the poor fourth position in the last Lok Sabha elections was laging behind with 22 seats each of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and 16 of the BSP.

Detractors of the Congress say that the road ahead is not easy for the Congress as four Assembly bypolls after the Lok Sabha elections have seen the party biting dust.

Rahul's recent agitation at Bhatta Parsaul in Greater Noida has stirred up things politically with Mayawati going great guns to attack the Congress.

The AICC has already declared that there is no question of alliance with any major party like the SP and the BSP and there could be tie-ups with smaller parties also.

A section of the Congress party is of the view that the party should join hands with the Samajwadi Party for a better performance.

Party veterans like Vasant Sathe have only recently underlined the need for Priyanka Vadra to become active in politics and Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi along with Priyanka and Rahul embark on a mass contact programme. 

Rahul's birthday celebrated as Kisan Adhikar Diwas

With Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh due early next year, the birthday of AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, who turned 41 on Sunday, is being celebrated all over the state by party workers as Kisan Adhikar Diwas (Farmers' Rights Day).

The opportunity is being utilised by the state unit to reach out to the farmers in wake of the agitation at Bhatta Parsaul in Greater Noida on the land acquisition issue. Rahul Gandhi who personally took part in the agitation had generated a lot of heat politically.

Sources at his residence at 12, Tuglak Lane residence revealed, the young leader is not at home and no celebration has been planned so far.

Meanwhile, Kisan Chaupals (farmer gatherings) were on Sunday organised in all the Nyay Panchyats in Gandhi's Amethi constituency. The party office bearers organised Chaupals in all 712 Nyay Panchyats in Amethi to hear problems faced by farmers.

Party leader Rajesh Srivastav said neither cakes were cut nor sweets were distributed on Rahul's birthday this year but the party workers tried to mingle with farmers.

JPN/Agencies