Babbar-Dikshit Duo For Cong In UP: An Experiment Bound To Fail

by Dr A.K Verma - Jul 21, 2016 02:21 PM +05:30 IST
Babbar-Dikshit Duo For Cong In UP: An Experiment  Bound To Fail Raj Babbar and Sheila Dikshit 
  • Neither Babbar nor Dikshit fit into caste calculus of the state. They may not even have an idea of the geography and demography of the state, let alone its complex politics

When the Congress party roped in the services of electoral strategist Prashant Kishore for upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP), many thought that the party’s leadership was serious about its revival in the state. There were speculations that Priyanka Vadra may lead the party’s campaign.

But, by making Raj Babbar president of the UP Congress and nominating three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, the leadership shocked the cadre and brought disappointment to those who thought that the party was serious about its revival in UP.

The reasons for shock and disappointment are obvious. Neither Babbar nor Dikshit fit into caste calculus of the state. They may not even have an idea of its geography and demography, let alone its complex politics. So, what considerations clinched the issue in their favour?

Why was Babbar made president of the Congress in UP when his name did not even figure in the list of probables for the top post? This shows the Congress leadership’s contempt for democratic process in decision-making and its insensitivity to federal spirit. The party’s ‘high command’ can the take final call notwithstanding contrary aspirations of its state units.

The origin of high command culture in Congress can be traced back to the days of Indira Gandhi who appointed and fired CMs at will. Since then, the Nehru-Gandhi family has practised high command culture with disastrous consequences for the party and the Indian democracy.

Babbar’s cinematic appeal and popularity may be a factor in giving him an organisational responsibility. But, his loyalty to Congress is not old.

He was with the Samajwadi Party and joined Congress only in 2006. He was a member of the Lok Sabha mostly and, hence, may not know many party leaders in UP.

Congress is still pursuing cosmetic politics and living in the make-believe world, thinking UP voters will be attracted by a yesteryear cine star. The party ignored the fact that grassroots connections of leaders, robust cadre-building, voter enrolment drive, raising issues that really concern the masses, dynamic campaign strategy and, of course, inclusion of various caste groups through social engineering may actually be required for its revival.

Babbar is a Sunar (goldsmith) which is classified as ‘more-backward caste’ in UP. Some may argue that his caste appeal can’t be ruled out. However, he had been totally disconnected from his own caste group owing to his career in cinema. But, his party did not appoint him on caste considerations. This points to a contradiction in Congress’s approach on leadership matters. On the one hand, Congress appointed Babbar as president of its UP unit without caste considerations, and on the other, it took casteist plunge by playing the Brahmin card in appointing Dikshit.

The choice of Dikshit as party’s chief ministerial candidate is equally shocking. By PM Modi’s standards, her age makes her ineligible even for a ministerial berth. She is left with neither energy, nor dash. And then, UP is not Delhi; it is just like a pocket of UP. By importing her from Delhi, Congress is replicating the mistake that BJP made in 2012 UP assembly election, when it imported Uma Bharti from Madhya Pradesh. Bharti could not deliver; Dikshit will also not deliver for sure.

What is the premise on which Dikshit was chosen? That she is a Brahmin face and her Delhi achievements would be her credentials. Why could Congress not locate better Brahmin face for example Pramod Tewari? He holds the Guinness World Record of winning an assembly seat in UP (Rampur Khas in Pratapgarh district) nine times in a row since 1980! He was sent to Rajya Sabha in 2013. He could have been a better choice. But, the larger question is: will a Brahmin face attract Brahmin votes for Congress in UP? How Brahmins are placed vis-à-vis other parties anyway? Will they take Congress seriously?

Brahmins were with Congress since beginning. Dominance of Kamlapati Tripathi in UP politics cemented their association with Congress. With the end of Congress rule in UP in 1989, Brahmins lost power in UP when N D Tewari handed chief ministerial baton to Mulayam Singh Yadav. Thereafter, Brahmins saw possibility in BJP that pursued hindutva agenda during mandal vs. kamandal conflict. After decline of BJP, Mayawati attracted them. She offered them political space and power through Satish Mishra. Brahmins shifted their allegiance to Mayawati and enjoyed power during her tenure (2007-12). But, since Akhilesh Yadav came to power, they are in wilderness and are looking for new openings. However, they will surely weigh chances of a party before swinging towards that.

So, how is Congress placed in 2017 electoral battle in UP? Could it win the elections? What could be the rough estimate about seats that the party may win?

The Congress got 28 seats and 11.6 percent votes in the 2012 assembly elections. The party getting a majority is highly unlikely. The second best scenario could be winning a respectable number of seats that could work as ‘add-on’ to any other party and form a coalition government. There could be a possibility of coalition either with Samajwadi Party (SP) or Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the event of them not getting clear majority.

However, the Congress has a problem with both the regionally dominant parties. When it comes to parliamentary election it competes with SP for Muslim votes and with the BSP for Dalit votes. That can never make their coalitions in UP stable. And by bringing in Babbar and Dikshit, Congress has not kept any eye either on the Muslim or the Dalit votes.

Congress appears to have squandered its last chance of comeback in UP by not campaigning under Priyanka Vadra’s leadership. Priyanka had no stakes as Congress chips are down and she had nothing to lose. But, if she clicked, then that could have been a game-changer for Congress not only in UP but also in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when PM Modi would be called upon to present his report card before seeking a fresh mandate.

However, the Congress’ new strategy of asking all its Lok Sabha candidates in 2014 to be contestants for the coming assembly elections has surprised many. After all, these heavyweights may have lost the Lok Sabha polls, but surely they may put all their might to win one segment (assembly constituency) of their parliamentary constituency.

That may bring Congress in the fight for about 80 such assembly seats. Also, the party’s reported decision to give tickets to all those who polled 20,000 votes in the 2012 assembly elections may put Congress in the fight in many more constituencies. This sudden strategy has certainly unnerved Samajwadi Party, because if Congress comes into a serious contest in about a hundred constituencies, that will adversely affect them - the Muslim votes, which have been so vital for the party, may instead go to Congress.

Read also:
-Gandhis For UP: What Does It Mean?

-#UP2017: Can Congress put the humiliation of 2012 behind?

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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