Raj Babbar for UP raj: Has the Congress run out of ideas in the state? | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Raj Babbar for UP raj: Has the Congress run out of ideas in the state?

With this strategy in place, a UP Congress worker had better believe in what party vice-president Rahul Gandhi once said: that if India is a computer, the Congress is its default programme.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2016 09:44 IST
DK Singh
Newly appointed UP Congress committee chief Raj Babbar arrives at 10 Janpath in New Delhi to meet party president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday.
Newly appointed UP Congress committee chief Raj Babbar arrives at 10 Janpath in New Delhi to meet party president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday. (PTI)

When the Congress declared Raj Babbar as the president of its Uttar Pradesh unit Tuesday evening, the instant reaction in the party circles was a joke: that UPiites may not have to worry about their food any more. It was in reference to the cinestar-turned-politician’s remarks in 2013 that one could get a full meal in Mumbai for `12. It triggered a controversy and he apologized.

Congressmen are not known to forget mistakes, especially if they were committed by a party colleague. Here was a leader who had cut his teeth in politics in VP Singh’s Janata Dal and had a long stint in the Samajwadi Party before he joined the Congress in 2008. He came to prominence soon, as he defeated SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav in a Lok Sabha by-poll in 2009. The Firozabad seat had been vacated by Akhilesh Yadav, her husband and the incumbent UP chief minister. The veteran actor hasn’t looked back since, becoming a prominent face of the Congress on campaign trails.

But his appointment as UP Congress chief hasn’t gone down well with many party leaders. After 2007 and 2012 assembly elections, top Congress leaders’ refrain was that the party did badly due to “organizational weaknesses”. Raj Babbar is now known to be an organiser. A former Congress MP from UP, however, defended the choice: “He can gather the crowd, at least.” The leadership, after months of deliberations, zeroed in on Babbar’s glamour quotient.

The choice of the cinestar raises a big question: Is the Congress running out of ideas to revive itself in UP? Prashant Kishor, the party’s poll strategist and the man with the Midas touch, initially came up with what many thought was a no-brainer: make Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Vadra the chief ministerial face in UP and the party might have a fighting chance on at least 100 out of 403 Assembly seats. The idea was meant to be shot down.

Then came another out-of-box idea: project Sheila Dikshit, instead. She was born in Punjab and married to a UP Brahmin. The 78 years old former Delhi chief minister, assessed Congress strategists, could draw Brahmin voters. They had switched their loyalty from the BJP to the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2007 assembly elections but have returned to the BJP fold since. There was a time when the Congress used to count Brahmins as its loyal votebank but that was in the distant past.

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The grand old party hasn’t given up hope. Congress sources say that Dikshit is still in the reckoning as the CM face. Another name under discussion for a leg up in UP is Sanjay Singh who, until a couple of years back, was sidelined in the party. He is the top contender for the post of UP Congress campaign committee chief, according to party sources. Thanks to his clout in certain areas of Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi constituency, he got Congress’ nomination to the Rajya Sabha from Assam in January 2014, just when speculation was gaining ground about BJP making overtures to him.