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Eyeing Mayawati’s eroding votebank, Congress appoints a Dalit president in UP after 28 years

Brijlal Khabri's appointment as president of Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee is being seen as the party’s attempt to wean away the Dalit votebank from BSP supremo Mayawati.

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Lucknow: Eyeing the vote of Uttar Pradesh’s Dalit population which once stood solid as a rock behind Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, the Congress Saturday appointed one-time Kanshi Ram aide and former BSP leader Brijlal Khabri as the new president of UP Congress Committee (UPCC), closing a six-month vacancy for the post.

The party also divided its UP unit into six prants (regions) and appointed a “prant adhyaksha (regional president)” for each of these regions, namely, Pashchim, Braj, Awadh, Bundelkhand, Prayag and Purvanchal.  

Among the party’s new regional heads in UP are Nasimuddin Siddiqui, five-time MLA Ajay Rai, and Nakul Dubey, who joined the Congress just in May this year — all of the three are former BSP leaders who served as ministers in Mayawati’s government at some point. Rai had even contested against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi in 2019.

Former UPCC general secretary Anil Yadav from Etawah, administrative in-charge Yogesh Dixit and Pharenda MLA Virendra Chaudhary are the other three other regional heads.

Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi made the appointments barely days before demitting office. Election for party president is to be held on October 17 with veteran Mallikarjun Kharge going up against MP Shashi Tharoor for the top post.

Even in 2016, Congress had appointed four vice presidents representing different regions of Uttar Pradesh, but the All India Congress Committee (AICC) has now divided the party’s state unit into six parts with a regional president in charge of each.

“In Sonbhadra, our leader Priyanka Gandhi ji fought for Dalits and now, after 28 years, the Congress has a Dalit president in the form of Brijlal Khabri. He is a tall Dalit leader who has worked alongside Kanshi Ram ji,” UP Congress spokesperson Sachin Rawat told ThePrint.


Also Read: ‘Party bigger than govt, focus on winning seats that we lost’, says UP’s new BJP chief 


Mayawati’s ‘eyes and ears’

Former UP chief minister Mayawati had once described Khabri, who rose through the ranks to become national general secretary of the BSP, as her “eyes and ears” in the state.

A former MP from Jalaun in UP’s Bundelkhand region, Khabri started his political career as a member of the Bahujan Chhatra Sangh — a political outfit for students and youngsters from the ‘bahujan‘ community which was a training ground for several BSP leaders.

While his political beginnings were humble, Khabri had his first taste of electoral success in 1999 when he was elected as an MP from the Jalaun-Garautha Lok Sabha constituency. 

He lost the seat in 2004 and returned to Parliament as a Rajya Sabha MP in 2008 before unsuccessfully contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Jalaun on a BSP ticket for a second time in 2014.

He joined the Congress in 2016 and was made national vice president of the party’s Dalit cell. In June 2021, Khabri was appointed secretary in-charge for Bihar, a post he held until Saturday.

With his appointment as UPCC president, the Congress seems to be making a play to gain lost ground in the state where it was reduced to a meagre two seats in the March 2022 assembly polls. 

Khabri’s appointment comes on the heels of a war of words between Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati over repeated mentions of Dr B.R. Ambedkar by Yadav during the SP’s two-day national convention last month.

Akhilesh’s remark that the BJP lost some seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls owing to the might of the “Lohiaite and Ambedkarite alliance” had triggered speculation about revival of the SP-BSP alliance ahead of 2024.

‘BMD’ formula

Asked about Khabri’s appointment and that of six regional heads, UP Congress leaders admit that the move is an attempt at social engineering as part of a ‘Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit (BMD)’ outreach ahead of the 2024 elections.

The move is in line with Congress’ outreach to the Dalits, backwards and minorities who are facing “atrocities under the BJP rule”, said Virendra Chaudhary, who has been appointed the UPCC regional head of Purvanchal (eastern UP) prant.

“Congress will attempt to strengthen the organisation at booth level and unit level. There is a feeling that the [Dalit] community has lost faith in Mayawati. In the past, too, the Congress has been working for Dalits, backwards and minorities,” Chaudhary told ThePrint.

While 87 per cent of Jatavs — a section of Dalits seen as Mayawati’s core base — had voted for BSP in the 2017 UP assembly polls, this number declined to 65 per cent in 2022, according to a post-poll analysis by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Explaining the rationale behind the move, Dhiraj Gurjar, AICC Secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh pointed out that a Muslim, two Brahmins, a Kurmi (OBC) and a Yadav face are among those appointed UPCC regional heads.

“These are people who have made their presence felt at the grassroots and have been MLA/MP before. Brijlal Khabri ji is a two-time MP, both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. He has an identity as a Dalit activist and has worked with them for a long time,” Gurjar said.

He added: “Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits are the natural vote bank of the Congress in UP and we will try to consolidate that. Our 2024 mission will be based on this social engineering.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)


Also Read: ‘Akhilesh is Aurangzeb’, ‘Nitin Agarwal is daaru mantri’ — UP minister & SP’s Twitter brawl


 

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