Former Union Minister Jitin Prasada, once close to Rahul Gandhi, has crossed over to the BJP in a huge blow to the Congress ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election next year. The 47-year-old leader, who was the Congress's top Brahmin face in UP, exits at a time the opposition party is in meetings in Delhi to try and untangle a feud in Punjab, another state voting in 2022. BJP's latest acquisition from Congress is expected to restore the support of a core constituency in Uttar Pradesh said to be upset with the party in recent days. Prasada, a former Lok Sabha member from the state's Dhaurahra constituency, is one of the Brahmin leaders from the state and the BJP is seen as hoping that his coming will help stem the tide of resentment among the community ahead of next year's assembly elections. Brahmins, who comprise around 10 per cent of the state's population, have been ardent BJP supporters since the early '90s when the Dalit vote bank gained ascendancy in Uttar Pradesh with the Bahujan Samaj Party's "Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar" slogan, directed against the three upper castes.
Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh Jitin Prasad on Wednesday joined BJP in presence of union railway minister Piyush Goyal and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni at party headquarters, giving a big jolt to the Congress party.
Welcoming Prasada, Goyal praised his commitment to serve the people and said that he (Prasada) will play an important role in Uttar Pradesh. “He will have a major role in Uttar Pradesh politics in the future. He is someone who is connected to the ground realities and is a popular leader in the state,” Goyal said.
Prasada thanked BJP president J.P. Nadda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah for accepting him in the saffron fold.
Prasada said, “The question is not why I’m leaving a party but why I’m joining another party. If there is a party in the real sense today, an institutional party, then it is the BJP. Other parties are either regional or person-specific.”
After joining BJP, Prasad said, “I feel there is no purpose of your doing politics or staying in a political party if a person is not able to serve or protect the interest of its people. I realized being in Congress and not being able to do the same. So, I joined BJP and my work will only speak for itself.”
His father Jitendra Prasada was a prominent ‘Brahmin’ face in Uttar Prasad, who had challenged Sonia Gandhi’s leadership in 1999 and had contested against her for the post of party chief. He died in 2002.
The saffron party believes that Prasada joining BJP will help it pacify Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh, where the Assembly poll will be held early next year. A party insider said that Prasada could be projected as the Brahmin face of the party which is completely missing in Uttar Pradesh.
Prasada, once close to Rahul Gandhi, was part of Group-23 (G-23) signatories who had written to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi demanding sweeping reforms in the party. Despite being a dissenter, he was tasked with the Congress campaign in West Bengal, which turned out to be a disappointment. Taking a stand against the party, he opposed Congress’s alliance with the Indian Secular Front (ISF) in West Bengal.
Dissent, anger and now anguish. The Congress in Uttar Pradesh sank into the realms of despair on Wednesday as soon as the news of former union minister Jitin Prasada joining the BJP came.
UPCC president Ajay Kumar Lallu was busy staging a dharna inside the party office in protest against the Aligarh hooch tragedy, completely oblivious of the crisis in the party.
While Lallu did not comment on Jitin’s departure from the Congress, his supporters claimed that it was no loss for the party.
“Did he win any recent election? If he has gone, it is no loss for the Congress,” said a Lallu supporter.
The young party workers, however, vented their ire against the party high command, particularly Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, for demolishing the Congress.
In a WhatsApp group run by these leaders, party workers ‘congratulated’ Priyanka for finishing the party.
One leader wrote, “Priyanka is directly responsible for the state of affairs. She has leased the party to left-wing leaders who do not understand the ideology and culture of the Congress.”
Sources close to Jitin Prasada said that his main grouse was that Priyanka did not give him time to discuss political issues and Rahul Gandhi did not wish to speak on UP affairs.
“Jitin’s father, Jitendra Prasada, was a leader of stature in the Congress and if he has been forced by circumstances to leave the party, there has to be something very, very wrong,” said one of his supporters.
“He has been spearheading a campaign against atrocities on Brahmins and the BJP will now use him to assuage the feelings of Brahmins. The Congress chose to ignore him and his campaign and the advantage now lies with the BJP,” said a former UPCC president.
Another UPCC president admitted that the state of affairs within the party was going from bad to worse.
“The problem is that no one is willing to listen. The entire Gandhi family turns its face away from reality and the result is that today, a party like Apna Dal has nine MLAs while the effective strength of the Congress is five because two Rae Bareli MLAs have turned rebels,” said another former MLA.
Senior leaders said that the party would remain in single digit in the next assembly elections if the party high command did not change its style of functioning.
Congress sources said that several leaders were preparing to resign from the party after Jitin – some of those who supported the G-23 group.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has welcomed former union minister Jitin Prasada into the BJP.
The chief minister said that Prasada joining the BJP would further strengthen the party in Uttar Pradesh.
UPCC president Ajay Kumar Lallu, on the other hand, has termed Jitin Prasada as a ‘betrayer’.
“In the Congress, he became a member of parliament and then a minister. He was recently made in charge of West Bengal during elections. The Congress has given him so much but what has he done in return?” he asked.
Lallu said that Jitin Prasada’s departure would not make any difference to the party which runs on ideology. “People come and go but the party goes on,” he said. (IANS)