New Delhi: It has become a matter of intense debate on national media. Why did Jitin Prasada jump ship, switching loyalties ahead of UP polls next year? Is it a blow for Congress? Has the BJP just pulled off a coup?
It does appear that there was a vacancy in the BJP at the very top in the UP. The party desperately needs more Brahmin leaders to retain their hold over the community. Brahmins are about 15 per cent of UP’s population and can sway elections, making a difference between sitting in power or losing out next year for the major political formations.
And, crucially, Brahmins in UP have shown in recent years they can shift loyalties if promised a greater stake in the power sweepstakes. Remember, how they joined Mayawati’s camp in 2007, propelling her to power. So, while Muslims in UP have stayed with Samajwadi Party and Dalits with BSP over the years, Brahmins have been more fickle, choosing their party based on what’s on offer.
Brahmins joined the BJP ranks through its rapid ascent in the late 80s and 90s when it was led by Brahmin leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi. Today, both at the centre and the state, BJP has no heavyweight Brahmin leaders (though deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma is a Brahmin). To complicate matters, BJP is led by a Thakur, Yodi Adityanath, in the state.
It’s well known there is an element of rivalry between these two dominant upper castes in UP, a state known for its identity politics. Yogi Adityanath’s emergence has only alienated the Brahmins. And it’s this void at the very top that the BJP wants to fill with Jitin Prasada’s induction.
The argument that Prasada is a dynast but a political lightweight may be specious. Symbolism matters in the caste cauldron that is UP – and it can often make all the difference in electoral jousts. Remember, in 2007 the BSP too had no mass leader of consequence from the Brahmin community. Mayawati’s writ ran large over the party – and still does – but the Brahmins accepted her as their leader for a few years. But what helped the BSP enormously was the widespread public perception, perhaps rightly, that Mayawati’s closest confidante was a Brahmin – SC Mishra. To have somebody from their ranks at the very top in BSP convinced many Brahmins they will have influence in a Mayawati-led regime. And the results followed for Mayawati – she astutely also gave Brahmins substantial number of tickets in the elections (it all added up).
Meanwhile, Mayawati has once again entrusted SC Mishra with the task of galvanising Brahmin support for the BSP in these elections. It won’t be easy but the BJP will be wary of such developments in the dusty bowls of UP.
By weaning away Jitin Prasada, the BJP hopes to prevent splitting Brahmin votes with the Congress. And stave off competition from the BSP. And add to its bare closet of Brahmin leaders even though Prasada is still not exactly a mass leader.
What can Prasada expect to get from the BJP in return? Maybe not much immediately – even Jyotiraditya Scindia is cooling his heels in the BJP at the moment – but if the BJP retains power next year, he could become an important Brahmin face for the BJP. For years, BJP was wary of outsiders with a non-Sangh Parivar background but that is changing now as the party expands nationally. Consider the example of former Mamata aide Suvendu Adhikari who has been made the leader of opposition in West Bengal after defeating his mentor in Nandigram. Or consider the example of Sarbananda Sonowal, an outsider, who rose to become the chief minister of Assam.
But we are running ahead of ourselves here. The future for Prasada and, indeed, the BJP hinges on the election outcome next year. And while the BJP appears to have an upper hand, the UP panchayat polls have demonstrated the outcome is by no means decided yet.