Jitin Prasada, a former Union minister, Rahul Gandhi aide, and permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee, formally bid goodbye to the Congress and jumped onto the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bandwagon on June 9, months before the crucial polls next year in Uttar Pradesh.
It is the second-biggest exit of a young leader from the grand old party, after Jyotiraditya Scindia left the party in March 2020 with 22 supporters, which led to the downfall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.
In the press conference, Prasada said that joining the BJP was a start of a new chapter in his political life. He felt it was the only party that was an “institutionally national party” and all other parties were either personality-oriented, or regional.
It comes on a day when Congress leader and former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who was coaxed to drop his revolt in Rajasthan last year, made his frustration known. In an interview he said that half of the term of the Rajasthan government is done but the issues he had raised haven’t yet been resolved.
Before the 2019 general elections, there were strong rumours of Prasada joining the BJP but he was persuaded to stay by none other than Scindia. A third-generation Congressman, Jitin Prasada’s father Jitendra Prasada, had unsuccessfully contested against Sonia Gandhi in presidential elections in 2000.
Jitin Prasada was also a signatory to the letter written by the G23 dissidents to Sonia Gandhi last year demanding sweeping changes in the party and holding of organisational elections.
He was made in-charge of West Bengal for state elections held earlier this year, but was reportedly unhappy with the tie-up with the Indian Secular Front and blamed the alliance for ruining the party’s prospects.
Leaders of a party are like employees/professionals in any organisation. They evaluate prospects of the party, their future, career path, etc. while determining to stay put or look for other opportunities.
Jitin Prasada might have had a feeling that the Congress’ future is bleak under the leadership of the Gandhis, and his prospects are not bright.
With Jitin Prasada joining the BJP the ruling party gets a Brahmin face in UP in a battle touted to be tough due to mishandling of the COVID-19 situation. There have been reports that Brahmins, which account for about 10 percent of the state’s population and have traditionally backed the BJP, are unhappy with the domination of Thakurs in the administration under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and the encounter of Vikas Dubey in police custody.
The party is hopeful that Jitin Prasada’s induction would send a positive signal and pacify the Brahmins. Either way, the Brahmins do not have much choice but to continue backing the BJP to keep Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party) out. The Congress is in the dumps in UP, and may not lose much electorally due to his exit.
However, Jitin Prasada does not enjoy a state-wide appeal, nor does he hold significant clout even in western UP. He lost two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. He failed to win from the Tihar assembly constituency in the 2017 elections which falls in Shahjahanpur district, a family bastion seat, which his father represented four times in Lok Sabha.
Jitin Prasada is considered by many as a beneficiary of the same dynastic politics which he indirectly targeted while joining the BJP.
Jitin Prasada’s joining the BJP drives home the bigger message that the Congress is on a downward slide. It is unable to retain talent. Young leaders are not getting the space they deserve in the party due to the indecisiveness of the Gandhis and their refusal to send out a clear message on organisational power.
This fog of uncertainty over the Congress helps in creating a perception and building the narrative that the BJP is the only national party that can lead India to prosperity. It strengthens the argument that there is no alternative to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is clearly bad optics for the Congress.
Jitin Prasada is the latest to join the list of several young leaders leaving the party disillusioned: Jyotiraditya Scindia, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Ashok Tanwar, to name a few. There are other young leaders as well, who have expressed their disillusionment with the Congress leadership, and if nothing is done, it will only be a matter of time before they too leave the party.