Ajay Rai was proverbially locked in a David versus Goliath battle when he took on Narendra Modi twice in the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. However, unlike David, he lost both battles.
In 2014, he came in third, behind Arvind Kejriwal. In 2019, he again came in third. As per his 2019 election affidavit, he faces eight criminal cases, though charges had not been framed in any. One of his most high-profile criminal misdemeanor was his arrest during a campaign over alleged harassment of his supporters in the run-up to a by-election in Kolasla. In 2015, he was part of a violent protest against alleged police lathicharge during the immersion of Ganesh idols in the Ganga. It ended in a seven-month jail sentence for him and then a rapturous celebration when he was released.
Rai is a Bhumihar Brahmin, a caste found in large numbers mostly in eastern UP and Bihar. His appointment is significant because the Congress is trying to win back a chunk of the electorate that was once its ardent supporters—the Brahmins. Bhumihars have especially been sore about not having a leader of stature from their caste.
Rai’s political initiation was in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Bhartiya Janata Party.
The 1969 born Rai was with the BJP from 1996 to 2009. Throughout this period, he won the Kolasla Vidhan Sabha seat. In 2009, when his differences with the BJP had started, he contested as an independent candidate and won the seat for a fourth term in a bypoll.
He then threw in his lot with the Samajwadi Party but failed to win the Lok Sabha poll. His next stop was the Congress in 2012, once again winning the Kolsala seat.
Brij Lal Khabri, the outgoing Congress chief had an 11-month tenure. One viewpoint is that under him, too many leaders deserted the party. However, Khabri is unlikely to be sidelined, given that his Dalit background might sway some support from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Rai, however, is a street fighter, much in the mould of previous party chiefs like Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Ajay Kumar Lallu. It is that fighter instinct that the Congress is probably relying on to improve its dismal presence in the state.
He seems to have started off on the right note asserting that INDIA will script history in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Whether the legend goes as originally penned remains to be seen.