I first met Raj Babbar in the latter half of 2009. He had just made it to the Lok Sabha after defeating Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav in a byelection that was necessitated after Mulayam’s resignation. I had started the conversation by congratulating him on the great victory and asked him his celebration plans. To this he had remarked, she (Dimple Yadav) is like my daughter, so why should I celebrate her loss? He added that he simply views it as a political victory for the Congress party. Since then, I have met Mr. Babbar on and off many times and he has never ceased to impress me. A man with amazing clarity of thought, immense conviction of values and unconditional secularism.
But despite all this, I was a bit shocked, when I heard that Babbar will lead the Congress in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. By many yardsticks, he is not a typical ‘UP-wala’, at least the stereotype that we have in our minds. He doesn’t represent any of the castes that really matter in UP’s political demography. He doesn’t have the sound backing of any of the dominant factions of the UP Congress. Then why Raj Babbar?
May be, that’s why it must be Raj Babbar.
He does not have baggage. He is not hated by any faction; he does not antagonize any of the formidable caste groups. And more than anything else, he is amazingly accessible. A zero ego man with a sub-zero arrogance level, I have seen Babbar engaging with his workers in his parliamentary constituency with great ease. He has been available for them. He just needs to magnify these traits to a pan-UP level and maintain his characteristics. The workers of UP Congress will soon fall in love with Babbar; he possesses that charisma.
At this point in time, Congress is left with literally zero scope of trying and playing identity politics in UP. Most of the identity groups with solid electoral impact have already decided their affiliations as far as UP is concerned. It’s the fence-sitter, the unaligned voter who is up for takes. There was a strong theory that Congress must go for a Brahmin PCC chief. It’s true that Brahmins, one of the largest singular castes of UP are completely dismayed by the Akhilesh Yadav government. Even the BJP-led Union government has not been able to completely impress the people of UP. But despite that, from a larger identity point of view, Congress at best would have been the third choice for the approximately 10 percent Brahmins of UP. Most Brahmins are still undecided between BSP and BJP. As for Congress, it didn’t really have a Brahmin face who could garner a pan UP appeal. Likewise, the dominant backward caste, such as Yadavs, will consolidate with the Samajwadi Party and the non-dominant castes like Baniyas, Kurmis and Koeries will in all likelihood stick to the BJP as their first choice. To add to this, there is an unprecedented alignment of Dalits towards the BSP. As far as Babbar is concerned, if he can ensure an aggressive communication outreach strategy, he will be able to fetch a small pie for the Congress party from across diverse identities. The persona and appeal along with his astute political experience will be a great boost to the Congress party’s fortunes in the state. While no one hates him, Muslims love him for his unwavering secular credentials. This is clearly a big factor in a four-cornered fight where most constituencies will send their legislators with the margin of less than 5000 votes.
As UP elections gets closer, a lot of factors will change. At this point in time though, it appears that with Ghulam Nabi Azad-Raj Babbar duo at the helm, and Priyanka Gandhi as the face of the campaign, it won’t be politically prudent to write off the Congress Party.
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