In March 2019, a month before the Lok Sabha polls, Congress General Secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi had come up with an ambitious idea of bringing in a popular Brahmin face as a party candidate, against BJP stalwart Rajnath Singh in Lucknow. Her man of choice for this strategically important political gamble was Jitin Prasada.
A man of sophistication, urban charm, a popular Brahmin face and two-term Union Minister, Jitin’s candidature was seen as a master stroke by the Congress party. One that even in it’s defeat could have sent a strong message to the Brahmin voters across the state.
Jitin, however refused to contest. Why Jitin declined to go by Congress leadership’s plans is not clear. Sources close to Jitin say, the leader felt more comfortable with his traditional seat of Dhaurara and didn’t see any sound political rationale in shifting to Lucknow.
The other side claimed, Jitin didn’t want to annoy Rajnath Singh and the BJP. Political speculations of Jitin being in touch with the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party were also ripe at that point in time.
Eventually, Jitin went on to contest from Dhaurara seat and suffered a second consecutive defeat. He polled third on the seat he had represented in 2009. His party too touched the second lowest ever in electoral history of Uttar Pradesh, with party veteran Sonia Gandhi being the only candidate to win from Raebareli. The worst being, in the post emergency elections of 1977, when Congress had lost on all 85 seats of the undivided Uttar Pradesh.
In days that followed, electoral dust did settle, but a trust deficit between the Gandhis and Jitin Prasada came to exist. Jitin’s first open sign of dissent was when he became one of the signatories on the letter written to Sonia Gandhi by 23 senior leaders demanding an organisational change within the party. Since then, till now, when Jitin Prsada has finally left Congress, only to join BJP, it’s a story of lacking trust, search for a new political field and emerging new leadership within the UP state Congress.
A senior party functionary, considered a top member of team Priyanka, not willing to be quoted, says, “In Uttar Pradesh, party organisation and leadership is undergoing a revolutionary change. But it doesn’t means that old and established faces are being ignored. Jitin or for that matter any other stalwart needs to understand that politics can’t be a static affair, leadership and responsibilities change with time."
Clearly, Congress leadership is not surprised by Jitin’s move. With the leadership changes in the UP Congress, under new president Ajay Kumar Lallu and strong intervention at the strategy level by team Priyanka, led by former JNU student union president Sandeep Singh, political calculations of many an old guards within the state Congress had been disturbed. This also included Jitin Prasada.
After failing to ensure an electoral win in Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and then in 2019, sources say Jitin was aspiring for the post of UP Congress president. His aspirations for a bigger role within the party were not fulfilled, leaving the young leader fuming and trying to carve out an independent image as a Brahmin leader through the lesser known ‘Brahmin Chetna Parishad’.
Jitin’s move now, therefore, speaks a lot. Just eight months ahead of the crucial assembly elections and Yogi Adityanath-led government increasingly being under attack on the issue of alleged Brahmin discontent, Jitin will clearly be used as ‘big Brahmin’ face in the state, where politics is so defined by the castes. Jitin’s saffron avatar also goes on to counter the negative perception that was probably built on the issue of governance during the deadly second wave of coronavirus pandemic, when government has come under immense criticism over large number of deaths, oxygen crises and crippled medical support system.
On Wednesday, immediately after his joining at the BJP national headquarters in Delhi, neither Jitin nor Union Minster Piyush Goel, who was coordinating the joining, left any doubts about the possible future role. While Goel greatly emphasized upon Jitin’s “commitment" , “struggles" and “sacrifices" for the people of Uttar Pradesh, Jitin told the waiting journalists that “politics is about serving the people you work for and at the moment the only party through which you can do so is the BJP." No doubt there is an important role carved out for the young leader in BJP’s scheme of things and that too in upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.