Newsmaker | 34-year-old for House of Elders seat; seniors in Congress ranks ask what about us

Among the Congress Rajya Sabha choices that have led to heartburn in party ranks, the case of Mohd Imran Khan a.k.a Imran Pratapgarhi is the most surprising. The 34-year-old poet-turned-politician from Uttar Pradesh has got the nomination from Maharashtra, ahead of several seasoned leaders, who made their disappointment public.

Honoured by the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government for his poetry once, Pratapgarhi first made name with his YouTube videos featuring his writings that were largely critical of the Narendra Modi government. He was brought into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi and then grew closer to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, after she took charge of the party in the state. A year ago, Pratapgarhi was named chairman of the AICC’s Minority Department.

Congress leader Pawan Khera put out a cryptic post on social media after the party nominated Pratapgarhi among other Rajya Sabha names, saying his “penance had fallen short”. Actress-turned-politician Nagma responded by saying, “Humari bhi 18 saal ki tapsya kam par gayi Imran bhai ke aage (My 18 years of penance too fell short before Imran bhai).” She added: “Sonia Ji, our Congress president, had personally committed to accommodating me in RS in 2003/04 when I joined Congress party on her behest… it’s been 18 years since they didn’t find an opportunity. Mr Imran is accommodated in RS from Maharashtra. I ask, am I less deserving?”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Pratapgarhi said the Congress had gone by his youth, one of the criteria set by it at its recent Udaipur Chintan Shivir, where it spoke of ‘Yuvaon ki bhagidari (Inclusion of youth)’. The fact that he is the youngest among those nominated appears to have directed most of the rancour towards him, he believes. Striking a conciliatory note, he adds: “Whatever be the field, social or political, neither can only the elders call the shots nor just the youth.”

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On questions over his nomination from Maharashtra, Imran said his “canvas” was the entire country and that he would also take up issues of Maharashtra, apart from his native state of UP. “I am an intellectual and was selected by Rahulji for politics. I had no ambition for posts, but when I was given the responsibility to head the Minority Department, I fulfilled it sincerely. Now, I have been chosen to represent the party in the Rajya Sabha.”

On the murmurs of protest, Pratapgarhi said: “I believe the decision of the party leadership is respected by all. Nagmaji is like an elder sister and has congratulated us as well. There are no hard feelings as I am going to be a representative of youth.”

Pratapgarhi had first caught attention when the Akhilesh Yadav government named him for the Yash Bharti award in 2016. At the time, his poetry targeted the BJP and Modi, but was full of praise for the SP and especially its leader Azam Khan.

In 2019, Pratapgarhi began his political career, with the Congress giving him a Lok Sabha ticket from Moradabad in UP, a seat referred to in party circles as “Priyanka ji ki sasural”. Pratapgarhi had lost badly, to the SP nominee.

He had participated in the anti-CAA/NRC protests at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi towards the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020.

In June 2021, he was chosen to lead the AICC Minority Department in place of another young face from UP, Nadeem Javed, a decision seen as reflective of the trust the party placed in Pratapgarhi despite his short political career.

In the recent Assembly elections, Pratapgarhi was one of the star campaigners of the Congress in UP, along with Vadra, Rahul, Sonia and others.

A senior party leader said that while they personally had nothing against Pratapgarhi, there were more deserving candidates for the Rajya Sabha than him. “Imran is a fine young fellow, but what we want to understand is that why and for what has he been rewarded? If the party fails to explain that, it would discourage those who have devoted their life to it and given it many victories as well. We are in power now only in select states and can send just a few people to the Rajya Sabha. Plus, the selection sends a message to the cadre before 2024,” the leader said.

He added that apart from “disrespecting loyal Congressmen in UP”, the choice of Pratapgarhi was as much a snub to Maharashtra. “What good would he be for the party in Maharashtra?” the leader asked.

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