By Mohit Dubey,
Lucknow, July 13 : Raj Babbar, the new Congress president in Uttar Pradesh, often played the villain in Bollywood. Will the actor-turned-politician prove to be a hero for the party in Uttar Pradesh? The jury is split as the Congress faces its biggest test ahead of assembly polls in the state which was once its pocket borough.
Muted jubilation greeted the naming of Raj Babbar, a three-time MP, as the Congress chief of Uttar Pradesh — not because he lacks charisma or is devoid of leadership skills but because the party, despite some serious efforts lately, is in tatters in the country’s most populous state. Most district units in Uttar Pradesh are moribund and most foot soldiers of the grand old party are looking for greener pastures.
Other than that, barring the stunning victory he pulled off as Congress candidate in Firozabad years ago defeating Dimple Yadav, wife of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Raj Babbar has been not too inspiring for party cadres.
He took on former army chief General V.K. Singh as the Congress candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Ghaziabad and lost by a huge margin.
In the same year, he was head of the Uttar Pradesh campaign committee but the results show he failed miserably. The Congress managed to retain just two seats in the Lok Sabha battle – Amethi (Rahul Gandhi) and Rae Bareli (Sonia Gandhi).
There are murmurs if Raj Babbar was a wise choice by the Congress high command.
“We abide by whatever decision the party leadership takes but certainly Babbar Saheb would require more than his silver screen charisma and blessings of 10 Janpath to take the party to some position of reckoning,” a senior party leader told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
He added that the experiments so far unveiled by election strategist Prashant Kishor, hired by the party for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls due in 2017, had also not met the objectives.
A former state Congress leader says that party workers would certainly be shaken up by the appointment of Raj Babbar as they had a “decent, quiet” chief in Nirmal Khatri.
The appointment of the likes of controversial western Uttar Pradesh leader like Imran Masood could trigger a polarizing ripple effect.
Masood shot to fame in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with his caustic remark against BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. He said he will “chop him into pieces”.
The statement invited the ire of the political class and the Election Commission as well as the Congress leadership.
The Congress has now named him a senior vice-president of the state unit. This, many feel, has been done to pander to the anti-Modi sentiments among Muslims and to woo the minority votes.
A senior minister in the Akhilesh Yadav cabinet calls Raj Babbar a “phuss bomb” (diffused bomb) with no relevance in Uttar Pradesh politics.
“The party has a dearth of leaders in UP and has hence had to prop up a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttarakhand. His presence will be of no consequence in UP,” he said.
But with rumours of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra playing a bigger role in campaigning beyond Amethi and Rae Bareli, it will be too early to write the epitaph of either the Congress or its new found hero Raj Babbar.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)—IANS