Jitin Prasada, senior Congress leader, today joined the BJP, a move that is not surprising considering that he began talks with BJP leaders ahead of the 2019 general election. At that time, things did not materialize and he contested the election unsuccessfully. Then, this year, he was given the responsibility of the West Bengal election by the Congress high command, but he failed to deliver. For the past few years, he tried to project himself as a tall Brahmin leader of central Uttar Pradesh, constantly flagging alleged Brahmin atrocities in the state through his social media platforms. A few years ago, he launched a non-political platform dedicated to Brahmins called Brahma Chetna Parishad. Last year, he wrote a letter to Yogi Adityanath, asking him to restore the public holiday of Parshuram Jayanti which was cancelled by Yogi when he came to power. By roping him in, the BJP has tried to send a message to the powerful Brahmin community in the state that it has acknowledged their uneasiness and allegations of neglect and that as Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath favours the strong Rajput lobby in the state. There are reports that some senior Brahmin leaders of the BJP feel sidelined. Senior leaders belonging to this community Kalraj Mishra and Kesrinath Tripathiwere appointed governors and another senior leader and former state president Laxmikant Vajpayee was sidelined after he lost the election.
The BJP cannot afford to ignore the powerful Brahmin community which has supported the party since 2014. With a significance presence, constituting around 10% in the state, they play a major role in the formation of governments. Till 1989, they supported the Congress, but the Ram Mandir movement sought them shifting their support whole-heartedly to the BJP. After that, though, Kalyan Singh's constant tussle with Atal Bihari Vajpayee annoyed the community. In 2007, many of them surprised political pundits by choosing Mayawati who had chosen many Brahmin candidates to knit together a unique Brahmin-Dalit base. With the emergence of Hindutva mascot Narendra Modi at the centre, the Brahmins returned to the BJP fold. In 2017, Yogi Adityanath was not projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate; it was the PM who was responsible for the BJP's lavish result. Yesterday, by appointing seasoned retired bureaucrat Anup Chandra Pandey as Election Commissioner and today, by inducting Jitin Prasada, the BJP's Brahmin outreach is clear.
The problem is that. Jitin Prasada does not have a pan-UP appeal; nor can he claim to be a leader of the entire Brahmin community. He lost the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as also the 2017 assembly election. Recently, his sister-in-law, Radhika Prasad, lost the panchayat poll to a BJP leader. A senior BJP leader from UP told me that the Jitin Prasada's arrival serves to demonstrate that the Congress party is losing ground and even senior leaders of the party do not believe in the Gandhi leadership. There were four young Congress leaders who were considered very close to Rahul Gandhi - Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada and Milind Deora. Now, two of them, Scindia and Prasada, have joined hands with the BJP, while Pilot tried to dislodge Ashok Gehlot last year in Rajasthan. Deora has praised BJP leaders on social media. According to the BJP leader who spoke to me, Rahul Gandhi attacks PM Modi everyday on Twitter for mishandling Covid, but his own party leaders praise the leadership of the Prime Minister. This, says the source, is a clear indication that Rahul Gandhi has failed to read the writing on the wall and together with his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, he has failed to revive the party in crucial states. The party continues to face internal problems in states where it is in power, like Punjab and Rajasthan. Prasada is one of the 23 senior Congress leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi demanding changes in the party's functioning; his exit demonstrates that the crisis is very deep within the party and in the coming days, other leaders may head out.
It is also a setback to Priyanka Gandhi Vardra's 'Mission UP', a state where she has been constantly trying to strengthen the grassroot base of the Congress. She has been attacking Yogi Adityanath for his alleged failure in tackling the Covid pandemic even as the Congress contemplates a Brahmin leader like Acharya Pramod for the post of PCC chief. With this change, the Congress was hoping to become an alternative for the upset Brahmin community but Prasada's departure may have damaged that. There is a talk that the Samajwadi Party is considering fielding a large number of Brahmin candidates to tap their anger. That is why it was important for the BJP to move swiftly.
What is true is that in keeping with its character, the BJP has been the first to get the ball rolling with a big move in Uttar Pradesh, where the election is due early next year. The BJP in the last 15 days has conducted a massive feedback exercise and promised to make few changes in the government and organisation to address the complaints of disgruntled party leaders. A confidante of Prime Minister Modi, A K Sharma, who belongs to the Bhumihar upper caste, is waiting for a key role in the government as a senior minister, and a cabinet reshuffle is expected shortly. The Opposition is in disarray and virtually invisible on the ground. It gives a big advantage to the BJP.
(Akhilesh Sharma is Executive Editor & Anchor, NDTV India.)
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