Ending months of speculation, the Congress on Tuesday appointed actor-turned-politician Raj Babbar as party chief in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh that goes to polls early next year.
Babbar, 64, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttarakhand, replaces Nirmal Khatri who was named as the chairman of the screening committee that will shortlist the party candidates for the upcoming polls. Khatri’s appointment came as a surprise since it is usually the state chief that heads the poll panel.
“It is a big responsibility which I will take up not as a challenge but as a mission,” he told HT.
The party also appointed four senior vice-presidents -- Raja Ram Pal (OBC), Rajesh Mishra (Brahmin), Bhagwati Prasad Chaudhary (Scheduled Caste) and Imran Masood (Muslim) – taking into account different caste equations.
Congress sources said all the appointments were made after due consultations between Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Ghulam Nabi Azad. Significantly, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was extensively involved in the deliberations and all these names had her approval as well. She visited Azad’s residence a few times in the past fortnight, including on Tuesday.
Several names such as Sheila Dikshit, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh and Pramod Tiwari were discussed for the state chief’s post but the leadership finally decided to go with Babbar in view of his non-controversial and clean image. Dikshit is likely to be considered as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Babbar had triggered a major controversy ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with his remark that it was possible to have a full meal at Rs 12 in Mumbai as he tried to explain that poverty level has come down. The remark drew sharp reactions from the Congress’ political opponents, forcing him to apologise and take back his words.
Azad said the actor-turned-politician is “above caste and has an appeal” across the country.