Jitin Prasada’s much-anticipated pole vault to the BJP is strategically timed, to score a point eight months before the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Behind the Congress GenNext migration to greener pastures is a palpable sense of alienation, summed by a party wag with the quip that Rahul Gandhi would wind up being the only ‘youth’ leader in the Congress.
For both Prasada and the BJP, it’s a win-win. His brahmin credentials, in a state where it matters, didn’t afford him sufficient traction in the Congress. After all, the party’s face in UP is uber-brahmin, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being the great grand-daughter of Pundit Nehru. The BJP, on the other hand, finds a pedigreed brahmin useful, given that the tallest leaders from the state, Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, are thakurs.
For the BJP, Prasada’s entry at this juncture is intended to mitigate brahmin sentiments lacerated by the CM’s alleged ‘thakurvad’, on which BSP supremo Mayawati has sought to capitalize by describing the community as “scared, terrorized and insecure”. While reports of brahmin anger against Yogi tend to be exaggerated, the July 2020 ‘encounter’ killing of Kanpur crime boss Vikas Dubey and his gang manifestly upset the community.
And Prasada, for all his Doon school background and Lutyens Delhi address, is the son of a son-of-the soil, who has made it a point to play to the sentiments of the brahmins by chiding the state government for targeting them.
His community forum and Brahmin Chetna Samvad programmes have certainly made him a name beyond his pocket of influence, Shahjahanpur. This initiative, he was careful to emphasize in 2020, had nothing to do with the Congress, leading to speculation that the RSS was at work behind the scenes.
An additional advantage is that Prasada’s advent shifts the narrative from the pandemic-battered Yogi government to the BJP as the party of choice for serious players. Projecting itself as the winning bandwagon in the 2022 assembly polls is vital to retain not just the brahmin, but the wavering dalit votes it had wrested from the BSP.
BJP noses will be put out of joint in UP, but not so much Yogi’s as those of aspiring brahmin leaders, notably Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi, who has been very active on the ground in recent years. However, UP is large enough to accommodate the ambitions of more than one brahmin at the moment, given that the CM’s post is taken.
For the Congress, Prasada’s defection is a not-unexpected setback. Indeed, he was poised to quit in 2019, so it was less of a surprise than former Unnao MP Annu Tandon’s rather acrimonious exit to the Samajwadi Party in 2020.
The impatience of the once-pampered dynasts with the Congress high command is no secret. Quondam members of Team Rahul like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot and Sandeep Dikshit, among others, found themselves overlooked after the UPA lost power. Other than Bhanwar Jitender Singh, a buddy of Rahul Gandhi’s, few were entrusted with significant responsibilities.
Prasada knew (from his own family history) that confronting the Gandhis while remaining with the party was impossible; his father challenged Sonia Gandhi for leadership of the party in 2001 and suffered a humiliating defeat.
Nor do animadversions on the lousy prospects of those who have left the Congress to join the BJP carry weight. Himanta Biswa Sarma (who joined in 2015 and is now Assam CM) is living proof that merit counts for something in the BJP and patience will eventually be rewarded.
2020 was a turbulent year for GenNext. Four months after Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists quit to join the BJP, Sachin Pilot rebelled. He was disgruntled that, for all his mammoth efforts to secure Rajasthan for the party, he was pipped to the chief ministerial post by Ashok Gehlot. Pilot called it off only when it became clear that he was not in a strong negotiating position vis-a-vis Gehlot.
The factors fuelling their disenchantment are obvious. For one thing, as long as Rahul Gandhi continues in de facto command, they have little hope of upward mobility, in an environment of patronage. For another, the Congress hasn’t shown the capacity to bring its policies in line with voters’ sentiments and therefore, revive at the national level.
On occasion, the babalog have voiced their differences of opinion with the party high command. Deepender Hooda, for instance, backed the abrogation of Article 370, as did Deora. Prasada’s farewell to the ‘hand’ will certainly strengthen their position. And if the Congress high command continues to ignore their aspirations, that ‘hand’ will be waving goodbye to more members of GenNext.