Congress leader and former Union minister Jitin Prasada on Wednesday joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi, ahead of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh next year.
Union minister Piyush Goyal was present at the party headquarters when Prasada switched sides. Prasada, who was once considered a close aide to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, reportedly wields a considerable influence among the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh. He had won from Shahjahanpur and Dhaurahra Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. He became a minister twice in the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government.
“I have a three-generation connection with Congress, so I took this important decision after a lot of deliberation,” Prasada said after joining the saffron party. “In the last 8 to 10 years, I have felt that if there is one party that is truly national, it is BJP. Other parties are regional and individual-centric, but this is the national party.”
He also claimed that only the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi can tackle the challenges facing India currently. “What is the point in being a party if you can’t help the people you represent,” he asked. “I felt I was unable to do that in Congress. I thank people in Congress who blessed me all these years but now I will work as a dedicated BJP worker.”
Prasada was part of a group of 23 dissenting leaders who had questioned the Congress’ functioning in a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi last year. He had later dismissed allegations that the intention of the letter was to target the top leadership.
It was signed by a group of senior leaders including former Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Lok Sabha member Manish Tewari, former chief ministers Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, and former ministers Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora.
Prasada met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Goyal before joining the party.
The 47-year-old leader’s father and Congress veteran Jitendra Prasada had once contested against Sonia Gandhi for the party presidency. He died in 2002.
Scindia, who switched sides in March last year, congratulated Prasada, ANI reported. “He is like my younger brother, and I welcome him to Bharatiya Janata Party,” he added.
The developments came a day after Congress leader Sachin Pilot said the party leadership is yet to address his demands after his revolt last year. “It has now been 10 months,” Pilot told the Hindustan Times. “I was given to understand that there would be swift action by the committee, but now half of the term is done, and those issues haven’t been resolved. It is unfortunate that so many of the party workers who worked and gave their all for getting us the mandate are not being heard.”
Hemaram Choudhary, senior Congress MLA and a supporter of Pilot, had last month suddenly resigned. Reports said tension has been brewing between Pilot and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot since then.
Congress spokesperson Supriya Srinate on Wednesday asked Pilot to be patient and pointed out that the party had made him the youngest deputy chief minister in the country.
“There has to be a turnaround time, Sachin Pilot has to be patient,” reported NDTV.
Reactions poured in from both the Congress soon after Prasada made his move. Congress leader Milind Deora tweeted saying that the outfit “can and must reclaim its position as India’s big tent party”.
“I only wish that several of my friends, peers and valued colleagues hadn’t left us,” he said.
Senior Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that the development was an “unfortunate” one and that Prasada had a future in Congress, ANI reported.
“Jaane waale jaate rehte rain (Those who want to go, do go)“ he said.
Meanwhile, Shah welcomed Prasada into the BJP, tweeting a photo of their meeting on Wednesday morning.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath tweeted saying that the BJP’s state unit will be strengthened with Prasada’s inclusion. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had also joined BJP from Congress, referred to his former party as “wrecked and rudderless ‘Titanic’”.