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The Hindu
The Hindu
Mayank Kumar, Sobhana K. Nair

With an apology and a promise, Imran Masood returns to the Congress

With an apology for leaving and a promise to remain with the Congress till his death, Uttar Pradesh politician Imran Masood returned to the party on Saturday, a year and a half after he had left. With Mr. Masood’s re-entry, the Congress gains a prominent Muslim face that could help the party consolidate the minority votes in Uttar Pradesh, but his presence could pose a problem for the expected Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance in the State. 

At a formal event held at the Congress headquarters to announce his return, Mr. Masood proclaimed, “I will stay in the Congress till I go to my grave.” He also apologised, particularly to party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, for leaving the party. “I haven’t met her, but whenever I will, I will apologise. I know it is difficult to forgive someone who abandoned you, the way I did,” he said. 

Mr. Masood has had a checkered career, switching between the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. In his two previous stints with the Congress he was rewarded with plum positions. Ahead of the 2017 Assembly election, he was appointed as one of the three vice-presidents of the party in Uttar Pradesh, and ahead of the 2022 election he was made the All India Congress Committee secretary. He fought the Parliamentary election in 2014 and 2019 and the Assembly election in 2017 on a Congress ticket, but lost all of them.

In 2014, in the first pro-BJP wave, he polled four lakh votes in Saharanpur, but lost in a close contest with the BJP candidate. 

Just ahead of the 2022 Assembly election, he joined the exodus from the grand old party along with Jitin Prasada, Annu Tandon and Lalitesh Tripathi. He joined the SP citing “prevailing political conditions” and arguing that it was necessary to “avoid division of votes”. He lost the 2022 Assembly election that he fought as a SP candidate.

Significant influence

Despite his consecutive electoral defeats, he is considered to have a significant influence over the minority votes in western Uttar Pradesh’s parliamentary constituencies of Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Kairana, which have a high minority electorate. The Congress, which does not have a Muslim leader of his stature in the region, might find his presence useful.

After his defeat in 2022, his presence in the SP was rendered untenable and within nine months, he switched to the BSP from which he was expelled in August this year for praising Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. 

His return to the Congress comes with the growing recognition that the minority vote, that so far was split many ways in Uttar Pradesh, is gravitating towards the Congress. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Masood described the party as the most potent political force to stop the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its agenda of communal polarisation. “Rahul ji and Congress’ message of love and harmony is reaching the masses; I am able to witness it on the ground,” he said. 

But Mr. Masood is not known for verbal restraint and the sceptics, both within and outside the Congress, fear that this could come in the way of internal negotiations with the SP and the RLD under the INDIA umbrella. 

“Mr. Masood coming to the Congress signifies that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the narrative of harmony may be helping the party to make inroads among the Muslim electorate, who now see the Congress as an ideal platform pushing their cause at a national level in the coming parliamentary poll. But it may also complicate things, as the Samajwadi Party (SP), an INDIA bloc partner, is also a claimant to minority support in India’s most populous State,” Prakash Narayan, a noted social scientist, teaching at the University of Delhi, told The Hindu.

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