Jitin Prasada Joins BJP: Will This Matter Beyond Today’s News?
These five questions may help understand whether Jitin Prasada’s defection from Congress to the BJP matters or not.
Congress leader and former Union Minister Jitin Prasada joined the BJP on Wednesday, 9 June. Not surprisingly, BJP supporters hailed this as a “masterstroke” and a “blow to the Congress” while the handles of Congress' Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh units dismissed it as “good riddance.”
So, how important is this development, really?
The truth, naturally, lies somewhere between BJP's “masterstroke” and Congress' “good riddance.”
This article will try and answer the following questions:
- What led to this decision?
- What does Prasada gain from it?
- How does this help BJP?
- Can Prasada swing Brahmin votes?
- What does this mean for the Congress nationally?
1. A Shift That Was Waiting to Happen
Jitin Prasada is said to have been in contact with the BJP for around three years now.
The first rumour of his joining the BJP was in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, Prasada had publicly put those rumours to rest.
Last year, Prasada was among the 23 Congress leaders who wrote a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi, raising concerns over its functioning.
Soon after, there was discontent against him in the Uttar Pradesh Congress with party loyalists accusing him of betrayal.
Prasada was accommodated as the Congress’ in-charge for the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections. But during the campaign, he had disagreements with Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury over ticket selection and alliances.
After the election debacle, Prasada is said to have slammed the state unit's decision to align with cleric Abbas Siddiqui's Indian Secular Front.
Chowdhury's supporters now say that Prasada prevented central leaders from campaigning in Bengal.
2. What Does Prasada Gain From It?
Jitin Prasada has suffered a series of electoral debacles – in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 2017 Assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. His main hope would have been a sudden Congress revival in UP, but that didn't seem to be on the cards.
Staring at political irrelevance, Prasada seems to have chosen to jump ship and join the side which he thinks is winning. Of course, that would place him entirely at the mercy of the BJP high command.
Getting an MP ticket won't be easy as all three seats in his area of influence – Dhaurahra, Shahjahanpur and Kheri – have BJP MPs.
The best case scenario for Prasada would be to get an MLA ticket for next year’s Assembly polls from a seat in Shahjahanpur district.
If he wins and the BJP comes to power, he may have a chance to become a minister in the state government.
However, Prasada is unlikely to get the kind of prominence he had in the Congress.
3. How Does This Help BJP?
Prasada is the son of veteran Congress leader Jitendra Prasada, who had contested the party’s presidential election against Sonia Gandhi in 2000.
However, Prasada is a political lightweight.
Despite being a sitting MP and minister, Prasada didn’t just lose in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he forfeited his deposit and stood fourth in the Dhaurahra seat. In 2019, he lost and forfeited his deposit once again, but stood third, that too because the SP wasn’t contesting.
He did better in the 2017 Assembly polls from the Tilhar seat but even that was largely due to the Congress' alliance with the SP.
Prasada isn't like Sachin Pilot or Jyotiraditya Scindia, both of whom had a number of MLAs loyal to them in their states. He isn’t even like Milind Deora, who can at least claim to have a good equation with corporates.
However, Prasada serves the BJP well on something that it considers very important – optics.
Remember the Bengal elections, in which the BJP went to town highlighting how rival party leaders and celebrities were joining it in droves. Prasada’s entry would also help the BJP’s efforts in grabbing the headlines and creating a buzz, naturally aided by supportive elements in the media.
Also, this is helpful to the BJP to change the headlines in UP. In the last couple of months, the main headlines coming out of UP were first of the COVID-19 mess and then of a rift between PM Modi and CM Adityanath.
Prasada’s entry may help BJP give the spin that all that is in the past now.
4. The Brahmin Card
Many say Prasada’s entry is important from the perspective of Brahmin votes.
He was leading the Congress' outreach among Brahmins, an influential vote bank of the BJP which was said to be upset with CM Adityanath's support to Thakurs.
Prasada carried out a few protests seeking “justice for Brahmins.”
Now that he has landed in the BJP, the Congress' plan of wooing Brahmins from the BJP may be harmed.
However, there are two caveats here.
First, even within Congress, Prasada wasn't the most important Brahmin leader in Uttar Pradesh. That status would probably go to Pramod Tiwari.
Unlike Prasada, Tiwari is a very successful politician electorally, having won from the Rampur Khas seat nine times in a row. The seat later went to his daughter Aradhana Misra, after he became a Rajya Sabha MP.
The second caveat is that the Congress' Brahmin outreach wasn't really yielding much results even when Prasada was leading this effort. So, there's very little that his exit would harm in an already bad situation in the UP Congress.
5. What Does It Mean For Congress Nationally?
Prasada may not be a political heavyweight, but it is important that he is the first leader among the so-called G-23 letter writers to desert the party.
Prasada is the first leader from G-23 to quit the party.
This would give rise to speculation that some of the other signatories may also be following suit.
Prasada's exit also raised a number of questions regarding the Congress. Asked by Congress supporters on social media, these questions included:
- Why was someone like Prasada a part of Congress' highest body – the Congress Working Committee?
- Despite having lost three elections and having spoken out against the party, why was Prasada given the charge of a politically crucial state like West Bengal?
- Now that it is clear that appeasing leaders through committees and in-charge positions isn't enough to ensure their loyalty, isn't it better to fill these key positions with those whose commitment is unquestionable?
So, Prasada may not harm the Congress much, nor is he likely to help the BJP beyond a day's headlines, but it may add to the debate within the Grand Old Party.
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