Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s decision to switch over to the BJP ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections will make little difference to the Congress’ electoral fortunes nor to those of her new party.
Her exit is more in terms of perception – a senior leader deserting the party in the home state of Nehru-Gandhi family.
The 67-year-old Joshi’s departure comes at a time when the Congress has managed to create some buzz around its campaign, with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi spending nearly a month in the bellwether state, where the party was ousted from power in 1989.
As the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief from 2007 to 2012, Joshi failed to arrest the party’s decline that started with the emergence of the Mandal-Mandir politics in late 1980s.
When Joshi, a Brahmin, took over from Salman Khurshid in 2007 the party had hoped for consolidation of upper caste votes but that didn’t happen.
In the 2012 assembly elections fought under Joshi, the Congress managed only 28 of the 403 seats. The dismal show came despite Gandhi’s high-voltage campaign during which he addressed 211 public meetings in 48 days.
Congress leaders say the party recovered some of the lost ground in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but it was due to Gandhi’s efforts and not Joshi’s. The 2014 national elections were again a disaster.
Joshi felt increasingly sidelined after Nirmal Khatri replaced her as state chief in 2012. The party’s decision to bring Sheila Dikshit from Delhi and name her the CM candidate didn’t go down well with her. She made her displeasure known by skipping meetings called to discuss poll strategy.
Her exit from the Congress hardly comes as a surprise. She simply followed her brother Vijay Bahugana, who dumped the Congress for the BJP in the neighbouring Uttarakhand in May.
Congress general secretary in-charge of UP Ghulam Nabi Azad has a different take on Joshi’s exit. She was feeling the poll heat as Samajwadi Party had decided to field party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav from Joshi’s Lucknow cantonment seat. “The search for a safe seat made her knock on the doors of SP and BSP before finally joining the BJP,” Azad said.