Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, February 6, 2006
Concerned over repeated failures in the past 15 years to win back its traditional support base in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress high command is toying with the idea of finally appointing a credible Brahmin leader to lead the party in the state in order to wean away upper caste votes from the BJP.
The Congress leadership is conscious that following the appointment of a Rajput like Rajnath Singh as the BJP president, Brahmins and Banias in particular seem to be disillusioned with the saffron party and are looking for alternative political preferences.
Sources said that though several Brahmins were considered, possibility of the job going to a close relative of former AICC working president, the late Kamlapati Tripathi, is highly likely. Tripathi was an Indira Gandhi loyalist and his family has been close to the Nehru-Gandhis for a few generations.
The Tripathis have a tremendous goodwill amongst the Brahmins of the state and the perception is that the projection of one of his grandsons could send the right signals to the upper castes.
Sources said that Rajeshpati ‘Abu’ Tripathi who has contested and lost some elections in UP could be a frontrunner for the post provided his name gets the approval of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
He is currently running his own business and has shown little interest in joining the hurly burly of active politics. But if Sonia chooses him, he might not be able to say no, given the close relationship of the two families.
His name has apparently been short-listed ahead of Pramod Tewari, leader of the Congress legislative party and some others. If all goes well, he may become the next UPCC chief to succeed Salman Khurshid who would be adjusted elsewhere. In case he declines the post, some non-brahmin name like Nirmal Khatri may also be considered.
The Congress has in the past, tried several Rajput leaders who were unable to deliver. The perception within the party is that if the Congress projects a credible face then people in the state may once again return to its fold. The party leadership seems to be of the view that a Bihar-like situation exists in UP and people were looking for alternatives to SP, BSP and the BJP. Another view is that Muslims would also move towards the Congress if they were convinced that the party was in a position to surge ahead of BJP across the country.
Brahmins, Banias, Muslims and Dalits were at one stage the mainstay of the Congress in UP. However, the upper castes moved towards the BJP following emergence of leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the ’90s. But after his announcement of retirement from electoral politics and with the appointment of a Rajput as the BJP chief, the upper castes are now highly likely to return to the Congress fold.
Sources said that indication of a change of guard in UP was evident after the high command’s relative marginalisation of both the UPCC chief Salman Khurshid and (former) AICC general secretary Satyavrat Chaturvedi who was in charge of the state. The thinking is that both should be relegated to the background in order to push forward a new face.