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Why Congress lost Brahmin faces in UP, from Rita Bahuguna to Jitin Prasada & Lalitesh Tripathi

In last few years, several influential Brahmin leaders have left UP Congress, citing neglect. Lalitesh Tripathi, whose family was with party 'for 100 years', quit last week.

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Lucknow: With the exit of Lalitesh Pati Tripathi last week, the Congress seems to have come to the end of the road in terms of having Brahmin faces to present in Uttar Pradesh.

In the last five years, several influential Brahmin leaders, including Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Jitin Prasada, and the late N.D. Tiwari, quit the party saying their key supporters were being neglected. Prasada’s switch to the BJP, in fact, has proven to be fruitful for him, as in a ministry expansion Sunday, CM Yogi Adityanath inducted him as a cabinet minister.

Tripathi, scion of a family that has been associated with the Congress for over 100 years, also cited neglect for his decision to quit the Congress.

“When dedicated party workers who stood with the party in hard times are being sidelined, then it is not at all justified to stay in the party,” he said Thursday, adding that it was a tough decision because of the shared history.

The Tripathi family

Lalitesh, a fourth-generation Congress member, is the great-grandson of former Union railways minister and Uttar Pradesh CM Kamalapati Tripathi.

Kamalapati’s eldest son Lok Pati Tripathi was also a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government. Lok Pati’s son Rajesh Pati was also an MLC in UP. Later, Rajesh’s son Lalitesh became MLA from Mirzapur in 2012 on a Congress ticket.

The Tripathi family enjoyed a good rapport with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

“The Tripathis were the closest family to the Nehru-Gandhi parivar. In the 1970s, whenever Mrs (Indira) Gandhi came to UP, the one who sat next to her was Kamalapati Tripathi. Even after Kamalapati’s death, the family shared a similar bond with the Gandhi family,” said Dr Pankaj Kumar, professor of political science at Allahabad University.

“People close to the Tripathi family still say they have direct access to the Gandhis. Now, his (Lalitesh’s) exit is definitely a blow to the Congress in eastern UP,” Kumar added.

A source close to the Tripathi family said due to their rapport with the Gandhis, leaders in the Congress are finding it difficult to believe that Lalitesh has quit the party.

“This family still has a great bond with the Gandhis. Rajesh Pati and Lalitesh both have direct access to them … That’s why everyone in the Congress still can’t believe that this family could ever leave the party,” the source said.

Also read: UP Congress booklet tears into ‘corrupt, casteist, dynast’ SP, tries countering tie-up talk

The Prasada family

Earlier this year, another Brahmin face of the UP Congress — Jitin Prasada — left the party to join the BJP, and now, Yogi Adityanath has inducted him into his ministry as a cabinet minister. The BJP plans to get him elected to the Legislative Council.

Jitin, a former Union minister, used to be a close aide of Rahul Gandhi.

His father, Jitendra Prasada, was a senior Congress leader who contested against Sonia Gandhi for the post of party president in 2000. He was also a political secretary to two former PMs – Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. He also served as the UPCC president in 1995. Jitendra’s father, Jyoti Prasada, was also a Congress MLC.

A well-placed source in Congress told ThePrint that Jitendra Prasada’s decision to challenge Sonia Gandhi for the post of party president affected their relationship.

“Jitendra Prasada had a good bonding with Rajiv Gandhi, but he contested election for the post of Congress president against Sonia Gandhi which hammered it. But after his death, the Congress high command gave a ticket to his wife, who unfortunately lost the by-election,” the source said.

“In 2004, Jitin Prasada got a ticket and won the election. In 2008, he was made a Union minister during UPA-1. He was made a minister again in UPA-2. But he lost three consecutive elections between 2014 and 19. He was among the probables to become the Congress’ UP chief, but the party did not choose him,” he added.

This source added that the reason behind Jitin Prasada’s exit was “Team Priyanka”, associates of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who manage her activities in UP, who were continuously sidelining him.

Prasada was among of the so-called ‘G23’, a group of 23 leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi demanding greater accountability and pressing for an overhaul of the Congress after the 2019 Lok Sabha election drubbing.

“When Jitin’s name came among the G23, a proposal was passed in Lakhimpur Kheri to sack him. This hurt Jitin very deeply,” the source said.

The Bahuguna family

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who is currently a BJP MP, left the Congress in 2016. She was the UPCC chief between 2007 and 2012.

Rita is the daughter of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, a leader from the hills of what is now Uttarakhand who served as the CM of undivided UP between 1973 and 1975. In 1977, when Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and called for fresh elections to the Lok Sabha, Bahuguna left the Congress and formed a new party called Congress for Democracy (CFD) with Babu Jagjivan Ram and Nandini Satpathy. He contested against Congress candidate Amitabh Bachchan in 1984 on a Bhartiya Lok Dal ticket, but lost the election.

Hemwati Nandan’s son Vijay Bahuguna was the Uttarakhand CM from 2012 to 2014. He was also two-time MP from Tehri Garhwal. He left the Congress in 2016, and later that year, sister Rita also left the party. Now both are in the BJP.

A source close to the Bahuguna family said, “Both Rita and Vijay were annoyed as they were being continuously neglected.”

ND Tiwari’s exit

Narayan Dutt Tiwari, another tall leader from the hills who served as CM of UP three times and of Uttarakhand once, joined the BJP before the 2017 assembly polls. Tiwari was a senior Congress leader who also served as the governor of Andhra Pradesh.

His son Rohit Shekhar was appointed adviser to the UP transport department under Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party regime. Just before the 2017 UP elections, however, Tiwari, his wife and son joined the BJP.

What Congress leaders say about Brahmin exodus

Several UP Congress leaders and analysts ThePrint spoke to said the shift in the party’s focus towards wooing OBCs, and its dependence on dynasts, has led to its fall.

“There was a time when Congress had a grip on the Brahmin vote across UP due to these families. Congress was the number one choice for Brahmins, but now most of our prominent Brahmins leaders have left the party. We are left with Pramod Tiwari, (his daughter) Aradhana Misra and Rajesh Mishra in the name of Brahmin leaders. Though they have a stronghold in their constituencies, they are promoted as pan-UP leaders,” a senior UP Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity.

“If they (the Congress high command) would have made Jitin Prasada or Lalitesh the PCC president or CM face, they might not have resigned. But the party is more focused on wooing OBCs, on whom SP and BJP already have a hold,” the leader added.

Another party leader said, “The high command keeps on shuffling its cards in UP. They have done so many experiments in the last 10 years here but nothing has worked. For example, if we see our last three UPCC presidents — Nirmal Khatri, Raj Babbar and Ajay Kumar Lallu — very few people know about their castes. In UP, caste always matters.”

The second leader added, “The party stopped focusing on Brahmins after Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s exit. That’s why Brahmins totally shifted towards the BJP. Now, most of the old Congress families are leaving. This is disheartening.”

However, S.K. Dwivedi, retired Lucknow University professor, said the Congress has weakened in the last three decades in UP due to its dependence on dynasts, and not giving a chance to new leadership.

“If they had invested more in non-dynast leaders earlier, then maybe the situation would have been different. Now it’s too late. If they need to revive, they should develop new leaders in the state,” he said.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

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