Raj Babbar is the new Congress chief in Uttar Pradesh: A look at his politics

Fortune favours the brave, goes the adage. And how befitting it is to veteran actor Raj Babbar, who was on Tuesday appointed as the Congress chief of Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the state's Assembly polls in 2017. Not too long ago, Babbar was a star campaigner in the Assam Assembly election this year, which saw the end of the 15-year-old rule of former chief minister Tarun Gogoi, making way for the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in North East India.
Utar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar. Image courtesy News18

Babbar, who has five Filmfare Awards to his credit, had himself suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Minister of State for External Affairs, General (Retd) VK Singh in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from the Ghaziabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Singh had defeated Babbar by a mammoth margin of 5.67 lakh votes. The former Indian Army chief had got a total of 7,58,482 votes while Babbar only won 1,91,222. Like many of his brethren in the Congress, he too probably suffered because of the Modi wave.
Despite his lacklustre performance of late, the party has still reposed faith in him and has asked the former party spokesperson to lead the Congress armada in the battle for the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha next year. His somewhat good-looking scorecard (before the Modi tsunami literally drowned the Congress) helped him to ascend to the driver's seat in Uttar Pradesh. In 2009, Babbar had defeated Dimple Yadav in Firozabad, wife of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and daughter-in-law of Samajawadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav during a bye-poll. In the same year earlier, Babbar had lost to Seema Upadhyay of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the General Election. Prior to that, the actor-turned-politician had won the Agra seat for the Samajwadi Party by defeating Murari Lal Mittal Fatehpuria of BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. However, he was shown the door on disciplinary grounds in 2006 for questioning Amar Singh's views on privatisation of airports.

"Babbar, who was elected from Agra constituency twice, has been attacking Amar Singh alleging that he was a 'fixer' and promoting 'broker culture,' besides maligning the party's socialist moorings," a rediff.com report had said then.

The 64-year-old actor began his political career in 1989 after he joined the Janata Dal before joining the Samajwadi Party. He has remained part of the Lok Sabha thrice so far. Babbar was also a Rajya Sabha member from 1994 to 1999.

Even as the country is keen to know what role Priyanka Gandhi will play for the Congress in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, the party did spring a surprise by naming Babbar as its state chief. Belonging to the upper caste Vishwabrahmin family, the National School of Drama and Agra College pass out, would have to play the role of a conjurer if he wants to see Congress ruling the 403-member Legislative Assembly. It is also the largest Legislative Assembly in the country. In the last Assembly poll in 2012, Congress won only 28 seats, that is short of 174 MLAs to win the majority mark. The last time the party had won majority in the Assembly was way back in 1980 after winning a massive 309 seats. In 1989, it had won 94 seats, which is by far the last most significant outing in Uttar Pradesh for the country's grand old party.

It is quite likely that Babbar's appointment on Tuesday had the stamp of political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is given the responsibility of reviving the Congress in the state.

Political analyst Aakar Patel, in one of his columns Why Congress' 'Brahmin strategy' in UP won't work in Firstposthad said: "Reports say he (Kishor) has suggested two strategies. The first is to go after Brahmin voters, and second to project a Gandhi, either Rahul or Priyanka, as the chief ministerial candidate."

He went on further to say: "Kishore's logic is that the Brahmin vote in UP (it is about 10 percent of the population) is easy for the Congress to get because it had been with the party in the past. This is true, and many Congress chief ministers of UP in the past were Brahmins, like ND Tiwari, Kamalapati Tripathi, Govind Ballabh Pant and Sripati Mishra. However, the Congress last won an election in UP three decades ago. I can remember those days but not many people will."

According to PRSIndia, Babbar has till date given a good show as a Rajya Sabha member after he became member of the Upper House in March last year representing Uttarakhand. At 85 percent, he has beaten the national average, which is 78 percent. Babbar has also till date participated in 21 debates in the Upper House in his latest stint.

If not for star power, which miserably failed in Assam in April, the Congressman had his share of controversy by dishing out sermons on the cost of full meals while he was the party spokesperson.

"People should have full meals two times a day. How one can have it is a very good question that you have asked. Even today in Mumbai city, I can have a full meal at Rs 12. No no not bada paav. So much of rice, daal saambhar and with that some vegetables are also mixed," Babbar had famously said in a press conference in July 2013 while trying to defend the Planning Commission's new poverty line figures.

In the same month, the actor-cum-politician courted another controversy by comparing then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to Adolf Hitler while comparing Gujarat's government opposition to Lokayukta's appointment with Hitler's act of lockout of institutions during his rule.

Babbar surely realises the present Haqeeqat (1985) of his party in Uttar Pradesh, and unless he displays an altogether miraculous Tevar (2015) in the forthcoming Assembly polls, the Congress would again end up as Shikaar (2004) for the other parties.

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