While defections are always expected in the run-up to any major polls, the days leading up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections seem particularly populated with news of political leaders — big and mall — jumping ship.
At least five Gujarat Congress MLAs defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party over the past month. On Tuesday, senior Maharashtra Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil's son Sujay Vikhe Patil left the Congress to join the BJP. On Thursday came Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan's shock decision to join BJP after being a grand old party loyalist for 20 years.
Saturday was another such day, and saw reports — along with rumours — of at least three key leaders changing allegiance.
Danish Ali joins BSP
One of the biggest names to switch was Danish Ali, who until recently was the the general secretary of the Janata Dal (Secular), but on Saturday, joined the Bahujan Samaj Party, just as the BSP was set to announce its first list of candidates.
Ali joined the BSP in the presence of the party general secretary Satish Mishrs in Lucknow. "There is a threat to the Constitution today and it has become essential to align our energy with a strong leadership," Ali told ANI.
A top leader of the JD(S), Ali said his ideology matches with that of BSP leader Mayawati. "We both strive to uplift the poor and weaker sections of the society. I now want to invest my energy into making the lives of the poor better," he said.
The JD(S) now loses one of the few people in its ranks who spoke good Hindi and could communicate with ease with people outside Karnataka.
As one of the people involved in preparing the list of probable Lok Sabha candidates for the JD(S), Ali was present at the party meeting with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Kochi on Wednesday, following which the seat-sharing deal was announced.
Ali said he could not have hoped for the JD(S), a party based in and around Karnataka, to do well in Uttar Pradesh. "JDS doesn't have a large organisational structure in Uttar Pradesh. Despite all my efforts I could not have raised it in my janmabhoomi, my karmabhoomi," he said, justifying his move to BSP.
Ali, notably, stated that he had the "blessings and permission" of JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda to join the BSP, leading sources quoted by NDTV to say that with the BSP being a friendly party, this was part of a brokered plan for Mayawati's party to gain a seat in Karnataka.
Balabhadra Majhi, Damodar Rout join BJP
Balabhadra Majhi, Lok Sabha MP from Nabarangpur in Odisha, on Saturday joined BJP at party headquarters in New Delhi in the presence of Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, newly anointed BJP vice-president Baijayant Panda and state BJP chief Basant Panda. Majhi left Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal a few days ago.
On Friday, a similar move was made by Damodar Rout, one of the BJD's oldest loyalists, who'd been a minister in all four governments headed by Naveen Patnaik.
Though neither as big a name as Rout, nor as former Kendrapada MP Baijayant Panda, Majhi left the BJD and joined the BJP after levelling similar allegations of insult caused by the BJD as these two leaders had.
"As an MP I had done a lot of work for Nabarangpur and its development, like bringing in rail tracks to the area. However, in the past few days I have not been invited to local party meetings. Many other things were happening around me in the party, which was insulting in nature and which forced to me to take this decision," said Majhi.
What they bring to the party
Rout is a tremendously popular leader across Odisha, which is assumed to be part of the reason why Naveen Patnaik had retained him within the ranks through the years, in spite of his open criticism of Naveen and the current state of the BJD. With Odisha having both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, Rout will be expected to contest from his mainstay of Paradip for the state election.
Majhi fought and won from the Nabarangpur constituency on a BJD ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and has claimed to have done "significant work" there.
Both leaders, even more than the increasing possibility of a victory for the BJP, help the saffron party expand its base in Odisha and give an increasingly isolated Naveen the message that the party is bent upon increasing its hold in the state.
It remains to be seen if Nilgiri MLA Sukanta Nayak, who resigned from the BJD citing "mental harassment" on Friday, would also join the saffron party. In addition, a day after Congress chief Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally at Bargarh, party leader and Salepur MLA Prakash Behera resigned, leading to rumours that he too could join the BJP.
Shyama Charan Gupta joins SP
Shyama Charan Gupta, a BJP lawmaker from Uttar Pradesh, left the party and will contest the upcoming polls as a candidate of Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. On Friday, the Allahabad MP was pretty clear about why he made the move, saying there was "no value for hard work" at the BJP.
Gupta is a former Samajwadi Party leader, who left for the BJP in 2014. "Barring four or five, none of the party (BJP) MPs in the state have worked as hard as I have in the past five years. I stood by the party where and when required, be it making arrangements for the party national executive meeting or canvassing for assembly polls. Leave alone reimbursement of hefty money spent, the party leadership even failed to acknowledge this," he told Hindustan Times.
What he brings to the party
Gupta is a prominent Baniya leader in eastern Uttar Pradesh. A veteran, he contested from Allahabad in 2014 and won.
He is likely to contest from Banda, a seat he first contested in the parliamentary elections in 1984. He lost, but by 2004, he'd won successive elections in the constituency, assuring for the SP, a ready degree of familiarity of a candidate with the electorate.
Manish Khanduri joins Congress
Manish Khanduri, the son of former Uttarakhand chief minister, prominent BJP leader, and retired Major General Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri, joined the Congress on Saturday. His father and his sister are prominent BJP faces.
Manish had, so far, not been a keen political participant in Uttarakhand. The Quint reported that he headed news partnerships at Facebook India and had also been a journalist of some seniority with several business papers.
The Statesman reported that Manish could contest from the constituency of Pauri. The constituency is held by his father, who has already announced that he will not contest in the 2019 elections.
At the rally addressed also by Rahul Gandhi, Manish raised questions on BJP's nationalism. "General Saheb (his father) asked me if I would be serving honestly, and I said, yes," he said, indicating that his father had given him his support for the move.
The former chief minister was removed from his post as president of the Defence Committee of the Parliament by the Narendra Modi government recently, something Rahul said was grave injustice. "Major General Khanduri's only crime was that he told the truth on the lack of resources in the Army to the country. Prime Minister Modi couldn't accept this and removed him," Rahul said.
What he brings to the party
Manish's sister Ritu is the sitting BJP MLA from Yamkeshwar in Pauri district and his father, as mentioned before, is a BJP MP from the constituency. With the joining of a man from a "BJP family," Congress must clearly be hoping to send a message to the BJP while at the same time snagging votes assured to the Khanduri last name. Ritu Khanduri had, on Thursday, skipped a meeting convened by the BJP at Dehradun, so the grand old party could well be hoping for a family defection.
With inputs from 101Reporters and agencies
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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2019 16:43:43 IST