Rita Bahuguna Joshi's defection is no surprise, but she could've had a better excuse
It wasn't exactly a huge surprise when Congress MLA from Lucknow Rita Bahuguna Joshi walked over to the BJP with a smiling Amit Shah by her side
It wasn't exactly a huge surprise when Congress MLA from Lucknow Rita Bahuguna Joshi walked over to the BJP with a smiling Amit Shah by her side. But when she opened up on the apparent reasons behind her switch, it needed major suspension of disbelief.
"I resigned from Congress today and joined BJP. It wasn't easy for me. Whatever the result of the surgical strikes may have been, the Narendra Modi government decided to take full responsibility. Congress leaders and the media started questioning the surgical strikes. I was deeply hurt. I even expressed my displeasure on Twitter. It was not called for.
"It inspired me to take this decision. This fight and struggle is very important. Our Army needs the support of the government and the nation," said the former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief during a news conference at the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
If we go by her words — Rita, the daughter of former UP chief minister late HN Bahuguna and younger sister of former UP Congress president and Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna — was so incensed by Rahul Gandhi's comments against the army and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that she immediately called time on her over two-decade old ties with Congress and joined BJP just in time for the upcoming Assembly elections.
"I was hurt by the term 'khoon ki dalali' used by Rahul Gandhi. When the whole world has accepted that we carried out surgical strikes, I didn't like it when Congress and other parties questioned it. How could Congress ask for proof of strikes?" she asked at the news conference.
There could have been (and probably are) a thousand reasons why Joshi chose to desert the Congress in favour of the BJP but this was the least believable of them. A veteran in UP politics, the former UPCC chief lacks the mass base of her father but is considered to be an organisational hand and still wields considerable clout in and around Allahabad.
A prominent Brahmin face, she immediately brings to the table for BJP a useful counterpoint for Congress's chief ministerial candidate Shiela Dikshit and boosts Shah's plans of a rainbow coalition with Brahmin and upper caste votes. There are no clear favourites for the Assembly elections in India's largest state and Brahmins who constitute around 14 percent of the total voter strength, form an important constituency. Congress's hired poll manager Prashant Kishor reckons this crucial segment is not a automatic BJP votebank and is up for wooing. This explains the party's decision to field Dikshit as the chief ministerial nominee.
This Kishor-led shaking up of the Congress rank and file was perhaps one of the major reasons why Rita, who was the party chief in UP from 2007 to 2012, felt sidelined.
She took apart Congress leadership's decision to hand over the party's campaign to Kishor and said grassroots workers were being ignored in favour of a template response to poll battle.
"Prashant Kishor can be a poll manager, but he certainly is not the poll director. Unfortunately, the entire direction and leadership of the election has been given to him. Nothing could be more unfortunate than handing over the party on contract (to Prashant Kishor)," said the 67-year-old.
"How long we have to walk, when we will stand and sit, all these things were told to us a day before, despite the fact that leaders are grassroots workers," she said. "Even senior leaders of the Congress are unable to put across their point in the party," she added.
Though a prized 'catch' for the BJP president, where exactly would Rita fit in the party's scheme of things remains to be seen. One cannot help but feel, however, that she could have given a slightly more imaginative reason for her defection than the belated outrage against surgical strikes.
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Modi tweeted his greetings and lauded his contribution to the BJP and the government.