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Sarma, Scindia and now Prasada, Congress continues to lose stalwarts


The saga of defections in the Congress which began ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections continues unabated with 47-year-old former Union minister Jitin Prasada jumping ship on Wednesday, triggering speculation of further exits.

Prasada follows in the footsteps of his former Congress colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia who quit the party to join the BJP in March last year.

Both the young leaders leave behind a major vacuum in the Congress, having served as ministers in the erstwhile UPA government and having been part of the inner circle of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

However, Scindia, the scion of the Gwalior royal family and once the youth face of the Congress party from Madhya Pradesh, is yet to get a cabinet berth or a position of power in the saffron party even after 15 months of his joining.

Asked about Prasada quitting the party, Congress spokesperson Surpriya Shrinate said it is unfortunate and it pains her to know that he has joined those who are responsible for the death of lakhs of people during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Is it politics of convenience or was it any ideological commitment towards the idea of India that the Congress stood for,” she asked Prasada.

“I say this with sadness that at a time when the country is going through a huge crisis. Is Mr Prasada comfortable with the people who presided over the death of lakhs of people and those who are responsible. Who have consistently curbed free speech and have demolished institutions in the country,” Shrinate said.

“Are you comfortable by being with people like this,” she asked, noting that this battle is between two ideological differences.

“This war of principles, I’m sad Mr Prasada has taken a complete somersault. Many have quit before you and you have seen their fate. But it does raise questions about the ideology and commitment,” she said.

The story of senior leaders leaving the Congress for the BJP began ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the party lost Haryana heavyweights Birender Singh and Rao Inderjit Singh. Both went on to become ministers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first cabinet.

Rao Inderjit, who was Textile Minister in the UPA government, continues to be the Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation in the present dispensation.

After the Lok Sabha elections, the then Assam Congress stalwart Himanta Biswa Sarma left for the BJP in 2015 and rose up the saffron ladder to become the chief minister of Assam last month.

Some other prominent Congress leaders and former union ministers in UPA rule who quit the party and joined the BJP include S M Krishna and Jayanti Natarajan. Krishna has also been the former chief minister of Karnataka and Natarajan was the Union environment minister in UPA.

The Congress also lost once Gandhi family loyalist and former scion of the former Amethi royal family Sanjay Sinh to the BJP last year.

It had suffered a jolt in 2019 in Assam when its chief whip in Rajya Sabha Bhubaneswar Kalita suddenly quit and joined the BJP. He is now a BJP Rajya Sabha member from Assam.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane and its then leader of opposition in state assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil also quit to join the BJP in 2019.

In the Northeast too, the Congress suffered some setbacks when its former chief minister in Manipur N Biren Singh joined the BJP in 2016, citing differences with then incumbent Ibobi Singh.

In Arunachal Pradesh, present Chief Minister Pema Khandu also left the Congress in 2016 before the assembly elections.

Former Congress chief minister from Uttarakhand Vijay Bahuguna, former Speaker of Uttarakhand assembly Yashpal Arya, and former minister Satpal Maharaj, also quit the Congress to join the BJP in 2014.

In Uttar Pradesh too, ahead of 2017 assembly elections, former UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi quit the party and is currently serving as a minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet.

Among some other prominent faces who left the Congress in the recent past include Tamil actor Khushboo Sundar and former Congress spokesperson Tom Vaddakan, both of whom joined the BJP.

Some other leaders of the Congress who have jumped over to other parties after quitting the Congress include former union minister Kishore Chandra Deo, now Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and P C Chacko, who is now in the NCP.

Former Punjab MP Jagmeet Singh Brar also quit the party and joined the Akali Dal.

Haryana Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi tweeted, “First Jyotiraditya Scindia now Jitin Prasada – huge blows for Congress as we lose leaders who gave and still had much to give to the Party. Agreed, they shouldn’t have abandoned INC especially during troubled waters. But Congress needs to identify and empower mass leaders to win back states.”

Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar said it is the Congress party and the Nehru family that gave recognition to Prasad and he should not forget it.

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