Jitin Prasada’s exit from the Congress on Wednesday is a setback for the Grand Old Party in terms of optics and perception. While he is not a huge electoral asset for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, where it has been down and out for years, his joining the BJP will reinforce the belief that even young leaders are now increasingly feeling suffocated since they see no future for themselves in the party.
Prasada is not a pan-Uttar Pradesh leader. For that matter, neither does he hold significant influence in western Uttar Pradesh from where he hails. The Congress is already at its lowest ebb in the key heartland state. Prasada himself had lost the last two Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly elections. So, the setback is minimal in electoral terms. However, his exit signals that there is huge disenchantment among leaders over the party’s reluctance to even make an attempt at reinvention — politically and organisationally.
A year ago, another young leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia had left the Congress and joined the BJP.
His exit will roil the Congress internal politics in the context of the G 23. The Gandhi family loyalists will use his exit to question the other 22 pointing fingers at their loyalty. The others could well argue the issues they had flagged are real, there is massive disenchantment in the party, and Prasada’s exit is, in fact, a pointer that the party needs to spring into action.
As for the BJP, his entry is a signal to the politically significant Brahmin community ahead of the Assembly elections next year given there is a perception that Thakurs dominate the state’s power corridors. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is from the Thakur community. Prasada, on his part, has been trying to reposition himself as a Brahmin face for some time.
Prasada had launched the Brahmin Chetna Parishad some time ago. The attempt was to position himself as a Brahmin leader, realising that he has no standing electorally and needs the support of a caste group to stay alive politically. Prasada’s Brahmin outreach, interestingly, had not gone down well with the Congress leadership.
There are many more in the Congress who are feeling dejected and demoralised with the state of affairs in the party. Prasada, Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora were the second generation Congress leaders who were close to Rahul Gandhi, and were once seen as the future of the party nationally and in their respective states. Also, all of them belong to political families, or in other words dynasties.
Scindia and Prasada are now in the BJP. Pilot is unhappy with the party high command for not addressing the grievances he had raised last year. Deora too feels sidelined.
After Pilot revolted last year against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, the party leadership had set up a three-member committee to address the issues raised by him. But, those close to him argue that the panel has not met even once so far.
With the Congress leadership setting up another panel to resolve the factional differences in Punjab and the committee holding a marathon meeting for five days, even summoning Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to Delhi, Pilot now feels he was given a raw deal.
That apart, the exit of young leaders, once known popularly as young turks, will upset the Congress’s efforts to craft a narrative against the Narendra Modi government over its handling of the pandemic.
Prasada was one of the signatories to the letter 23 senior leaders had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi demanding changes in the party. After the letter uproar, he was made AICC-in-charge of the party in West Bengal, where the Congress drew a blank in the recent Assembly elections.
The son of late Congress leader Jitendra Prasada, who had contested against Sonia Gandhi for the post of Congress president two decades ago, Jitin was brought to the party by Gandhi herself. He was a minister in the UPA government.