Ex-Congress leader Jitin Prasada – the BJP’s newest recruit – told NDTV Thursday his decision to switch sides had nothing to do with Rahul Gandhi or the leadership crisis plaguing his former party.
Mr Prasada also told NDTV he made no deal with Home Minister Amit Shah or party chief JP Nadda prior to his joining the BJP. He said he quit the Congress – his party of two decades – because “it was getting difficult (to work)”, and joined the BJP because he wanted to “serve the people”.
“It is not about Rahul or any leader… I never said the Congress did nothing. I got an opportunity to serve as a cabinet minister. I served for three generations… but slowly it was getting difficult. I thought the people are with Narendra Modi (and) I can serve them by moving,” he told NDTV.
“I didn’t do any deal with Naddaji or Shahji… I will do whatever the party gives me,” he added.
The 47-year-old former Union Minister was once close to Rahul Gandhi before frustrations with the party’s poor electoral results spilled over into a letter that he and 22 others wrote to Sonia Gandhi last year, calling for collective decision-making and “full-time, visible leadership”.
That letter split the Congress down the middle; it was Gandhi loyalists vs the ‘G-23’, or group of 23 rebel leaders. The looming civil war appeared to be staved off after the party promised a measure of change, including internal elections scheduled for this month that have since been postponed.
Mr Prasada’s discontent with the party’s efforts to address the issues raised were reflected in comments he made yesterday; he said: “I started feeling that I was in a party surrounded by politics. I started feeling that I was not able to contribute or work for the people.”
Today he underlined those concerns and took a swipe at the Congress, saying: “I thought the BJP is an institutionally-organised party. The rest of the parties revolve around a particular person.”
The 47-year-old leader, who was the Congress’s top Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh, also gave an indication of where he might be deployed by his new party, saying: “I will be able to do more work by staying with Yogiji (UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath).”
He also referred to his “Brahmin Chetna Parishad”, which he launched last year to little impact.
Just five months ago, Mr Prasada had attacked the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for reportedly manhandling Rahul Gandhi during a march over the Hathras rape case.
Now, he is a potentially critical acquisition for the BJP, with the Yogi Adityanath government in UP battling criticism (including from within its ranks) over its handling of the Covid pandemic.
Mr Prasada’s entry is meant to help the BJP reset the optics of the Yogi Adityanath government, perceived by a section of UP’s Brahmins as being pro-Thakur (the Chief Minister’s caste).
Brahmins make up about 13 per cent of UP’s voters and are an influential chunk that has steadily gravitated from the Congress towards the BJP over the years.
However, some in the Congress had questioned his continuing relevance to the party. He has lost three straight elections – the 2014 and 2019 national elections and the 2017 UP state election.