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Jitin Prasada’s exit to join BJP could signal brewing exodus from Congress

Incidentally, there’s a history of rebellion among the Prasada clan. In 1999, his father, Jitender Prasada contested for the post of Congress chief against Sonia Gandhi

By B. Sanjay

As Rahul Gandhi prepares to take charge of the Congress yet again, the exodus of the young party leaders continues unabated. After Jyotiraditya Scindia, the rebel Congress leader and former Union Minister, Jitin Prasada switched allegiance and joined the BJP on Wednesday. Prasada, who was emerging as Congress' Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh was also part of the G-23, the pressure group within the outfit. 

Incidentally, there’s a history of rebellion among the Prasada clan. In 1999, his father, Jitender Prasada contested for the post of Congress chief against Sonia Gandhi.  

With the resentment brewing in the party over the functioning of the Gandhi family, Prasada had shot off a letter to the party chief, Sonia Gandhi. He sought,” viable, visible, full time and active leadership.” He pointed out that there was a “steady decline” of the outfit and dared to question the party's “style of functioning”

The Gandhi loyalists swooped down on him. In a CWC meeting, Congress leader, Ambika Soni took pot-shots at him by reminding him of his father’s bitter history.

The Lakhimpur Kheri district unit of the party demanded his expulsion.  Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Congress functionary and member of the G-23 maintained that leaders could continue to leave the outfit if the High Command “did not change its style of functioning”. 

Prasada, who was given the charge of West Bengal polls had also complained of being ‘kept in the dark” over alliances and campaigning. Incidentally, Prasada was not in favour of the tie-up with the Indian Secular Front led by radical Muslim leader, Abbas Siddiqui. 

Prasada who had made his political debut in 2004 by winning the Shajahanpur seat, his father's constituency, became one of Rahul Gandhi's close aides. Differences began cropping up when Congress tied up with Samajwadi Party during the 2017 UP Assembly polls. Prasad was in favour of Congress going alone in the state. 

Things worsened with Priyanka Gandhi taking charge of UP. Prasada and other Congress leaders including Raj Babbar began to feel sidelined. 

What, however, irked him the most was the party’s move to go for a change of guard at his home turf, Shahjahanpur. This was done without consulting him.

In fact, the knives were out in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He refused to contest against the BJP stalwart, Rajnath Singh and instead contested from the Dhaurahra constituency. He lost his deposit. 

Over the years, much to the chagrin of the party, Prasad had been actively involved in Brahmin Chetna Samvad to apparently "reconnect" with the Brahmin community.  Earlier he had also taken out a Brahmin Chetna Yatra. His attempt to emerge as the Brahmin face "on his own", did not "sit well" with the Gandhis, sources said.

Prasada's exit has yet again indicated the simmering discontent within Congress.  Even as Scindia and Prasada embraced saffron, waiting in wings are Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora. Last year, Pilot had rebelled and was apparently holding parleys with the BJP. In a reference to the development, Congress leader, Milind Deora tweeted, "I believe in @INCIndia as a party that can & must reclaim its position as India's big tent party. We still have a strong bench that if empowered & optimally utilised, can deliver." Then came the sting:  "I only wish that several of my friends, peers & valued colleagues hadn't left us," he said.

As for Prasada, after shifting loyalty, he found BJP as the "only national party while others are regional." He also felt that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi "is the only one who can meet the challenges facing the country." Prasada who had made moves to join the BJP in 2020, claimed he had started "thinking" of joining the BJP a decade back.