The Uttar Pradesh Congress finally has a captain at its helm after six months and it is 61-year-old Brijlal Khabri, a Dalit leader from Bundelkhand. The party on Saturday announced that Khabri, a former MP from Jalaun, would take charge of the floundering UP Pradesh Congress Committee (UPPCC) that has not had a president since Ajay Kumar Lallu stepped down in March following the debacle in the Assembly elections.
Apart from the state Congress president, the party also appointed six regional presidents who will assist Khabri in organisational matters. But, for many Congress watchers, it was a surprise that most of the appointments, including Khabri, are not originally from the party. Of the names announced, only Yogesh Dixit rose through party ranks and has been vice-president (organisation). The other regional presidents on the list are Nasimuddin Siddiqui, Ajay Rai, Virendra Chaudhary, Nakul Dubey, and Anil Yadav.
Of the seven, Siddiqui, Nakul Dubey, and the new UPPCC chief were earlier with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Party insiders and political observers claimed that the objective was to fill the vacuum created by the BSP and consolidate support among the Mayawati-led party’s traditional voters. Senior Congress leaders said the party was hoping to use the newly appointed leaders to revive its traditional SC base that it lost to the BSP over the years.
But a senior Congress leader critical of the leadership’s choices told The Indian Express, “There is not a single leader on the list who can speak his mind before the leadership. We see a repeat of what had happened when Lallu was made to resign after the election loss when it was AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra heading the campaign. We are shocked and sure that the party actually does not want to develop cadre as most in the list are non-Congress cadre leaders except Yogesh Dixit.”
Who is Brijlal Khabri?
The new UPPCC chief comes from the village of Khabri in Jalaun district and was known to be an activist since his school days when raised matters concerning SC communities in his region. He continued his political activities in Jalaun’s DAV College but failed to win any polls during his college days.
Sources said Khabri left home at a young age to join BSP founder Kanshi Ram and work as a cadre of the party. The party fielded him from Jalaun in 1999 and he won. His close links with Kanshi Ram ensured that despite failing to retain the seat five years later, the party sent him to the Rajya Sabha. Khabri continued in the organisation but in 2014 again lost from Jalaun to the BJP’s Bhanu Pratap Verma who had defeated him a decade earlier. Subsequently, Mayawati appointed him the party’s national general secretary.
But fissures between him and Mayawati appeared and in October 2016 the veteran leader, along with others, quit the party after accusing the BSP chief of seeking money for poll tickets. He joined the Congress before the 2017 Assembly polls and unsuccessfully contested the elections that year and the Assembly polls this year from Mehroni in Lalitpur district. In between, he also lost the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Jalaun.
Congress leaders said Khabri, despite losing elections, continued to work for the cadre in different regions, including in Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Prayagraj, and western UP. He also worked closely with former Congress MP PL Punia in reserved constituencies in the run-up to the elections this year.
The appointment of the six regional presidents shows an attempt to balance caste equations. Of the six, two are Brahmins and one each is from the Muslim, Other Backward Classes (OBC), Bhumihar, and Yadav communities.
The Congress MLA from Pharendra in Maharajganj is in charge of Purvanchal districts such as Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Basti, Maharajganj, Sidharthanagar, and Kushinagar. Chaudhary belongs to the Kurmi community, which is categorised as OBC. The region has a strong Kurmi presence.
The former MLA contested the Lok Sabha elections against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi in 2014 and 2019. A Bhumihar leader, he is in charge of the Prayagraj zone. The Bhumihar community has a dominant presence in areas around Varanasi and Prayagraj.
The former BSP minister is in charge of the Congress in the Awadh region. Dubey, a Brahmin, joined the Congress just before the recent Assembly elections. Brahmins have a significant presence in and surrounding Lucknow.
The former Youth Congress state president is from Aligarh district and worked closely with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in his previous role as vice-president (organisation). All these months when the party did not have a state Congress chief, Dixit was in charge of party activities in UP. He will be in charge of the Bundelkhand region for the Congress.
Once a confidant of Mayawati, Siddiqui served as a Cabinet minister in a BSP government. The once-prominent Muslim face of the BSP had run-ins with Mayawati. After the 2017 poll debacle, the BSP claimed to have expelled him and his son Afzal but Siddiqui said he had resigned. The following year, Siddiqui joined the Congress and later became the chairperson of the party’s communications department in the state. He will be the president of western UP for the Congress.
The Yadav leader from the Samajwadi Party (SP) stronghold of Etawah will lead the Congress in the Braj region. He is known to keep a low profile even within the party.