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Smita Patil then, son Prateik now
- Young actor campaigns for father Babbar against Mulayam’s relative

Lucknow, Nov. 4: She died suddenly almost a quarter of a century ago, but Smita Patil continues to pull in the crowds.

Prateik Babbar, who lost his mother within hours of his birth, is reminding people of the actress as he campaigns for father Raj Babbar in Firozabad, where the actor-politician is taking on Dimple Yadav, daughter-in-law of Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Babbar is banking on his son to woo the young voters for the Lok Sabha byelection scheduled for Saturday.

Clad in a black T-shirt embossed with a portrait of Indira Gandhi, Prateik, 23, hops from one youth hangout to another — mainly educational institutions and malls — as he tries to mobilise the youngsters.

His mother once did the same: Smita Patil, whose father Shivajirao Patil was a Maharashtra politician, campaigned for Sunil Dutt in the 1984 elections when India got a taste of youth power with Rajiv Gandhi at the helm.

Rajiv’s son Rahul, the Congress’s current youth icon, has already campaigned for Babbar. Ironically, the actor has been the target of a stinging attack from Sunil Dutt’s son Sanjay, now a Samajwadi Party leader.

Still a novice in the film industry, the one-film-old Prateik, however, has no difficulty connecting with voters. The people see in the young man a reflection of Smita Patil, who died within six hours of giving birth to Prateik on December 13, 1986, aged only 31.

Still struggling with getting his Hindi accent right, Prateik strikes up a conversation with youngsters on their idea of politics and then politely asks them what the Congress means to them.

“If the Congress means anything to you, why don’t you vote for my father?” he asks gently.

Prateik often accompanies stepsister Juhi Babbar (daughter of Raj Babbar and his first wife Nadira) when she visits colleges and engineering institutes.

At a workshop at Amerdeep Engineering College last week, he joined a development debate with students. Although he spoke in English, he left an imprint with is passionate speech asking people to vote for his father and the Congress, terming them the “mascots” of development.

Today, he was busy organising a rally to be attended by actor Govinda, a former MP, at Sirshaganj.

Babbar, a three-time MP from Agra, was surprised by Prateik’s decision to campaign for him and asked his son to mobilise youth voters, a task Rahul had earlier performed by attending a rally in Firozabad.

“He (Prateik) is too young but youths are keen to hear about him,” says Babbar.

Prateik, who resembles his mother, stayed with Smita Patil’s parents and siblings, as his father patched up with Nadira. Babbar’s decision to leave Nadira and marry Smita Patil had triggered a storm in the country, earning the actress the label “home-breaker”.

Bollywood buzz has it that Prateik did not consult his father on his 2008 debut film Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, where he won accolades with his short but powerful role of the brother of the lead actress, Genelia D’Souza.

Prateik’s relatives say he is not campaigning to prove anything to anyone. “He has done it as he just wanted to... he felt it’s the right thing to do,” aunt Manya Patil has been quoted as saying.

As he woos Firozabad, Prateik lets it out that he is a man of many parts. “I was and still am a good cricketer. I am a pace bowler and a pinch-hitter like Irfan Pathan,” he told a college crowd.

But he quickly qualified his statement, saying acting also comes “naturally to him”.

What about dynastic politics, questioned a college student.

Prateik’s answer could have been that of a politician. “It is good if you don’t just inherit it. Put your own stamp of vision in it and then go for it,” he said.

Manu Sharma and Raj Kumar, his companions on the campaign trail, say Prateik has been able to strike a chord. “After all, doesn’t he have politics in his blood?” said another Congress worker.

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