NEW DELHI -- In a setback for the Congress Party ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, one of its prominent leaders and a Brahmin face in the state, has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
While Joshi does not have a significant personal following in the state, to lose a Brahmin leader doesn't bode well for the Congress Party, which has pegged its election campaign on wooing Brahmins, an estimated 14 percent of the electorate.
On joining the BJP in the presence of its chief Amit Shah on Thursday, Joshi said that Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi does not listen to others in the party, and that people had rejected his leadership. She also made a jibe at Congress Party's election strategist Prashant Kishor, saying that he "could be poll manager, but he is not a poll director."
"Sonia Gandhi ji used to listen to us, no matter what decision she took, but Rahul ji's nature does not make that possible," she told reporters in the national capital. "Rahul Gandhi's leadership is not just unacceptable in UP but also to the rest of the country."
On Kishor, she said, "Unfortunately, the entire direction and leadership of the election has been given into his hands. 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. Nothing could be more unfortunate than handing over the party on contract to Prashant Kishor."
Joshi also said that she had not approved of the Congress Party attacking the Modi government over the surgical strikes, and she was hurt by Gandhi's "khoon ki dalali" remark, which he made while accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of politicising the army operation, last month.
Calling her move a "difficult decision," Joshi said, "I have served Congress for 24 years and have taken this decision for the benefit of the nation and the state after due coonsideration."
The 67-year-old lawmaker from the Lucknow Cantonment is the daughter of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, who had a short stint as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh before he was asked to resign by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
Earlier this year, her brother Vijay Bahuguna, former chief minister of Uttarakhand, orchestrated a split of eight other lawmakers from the Congress Party and joined the BJP. Although Joshi had distanced herself from her brother's decision, the ugly split cast a shadow over her relationship with the party.
Over the past few months, Joshi has felt increasingly sidelined in the Congress Party, especially after Sheila Dikshit was projected as the chief ministerial candidate for the UP polls in furtherance of the party's strategy to woo Brahmins, and Raj Babbar was appointed as the state chief.
While Joshi did not refute speculation over her joining the BJP, which had intensified over the past week, the Congress Party continued to take the line that she would not go her brother's way.
Today, however, Babbar had scathing words for Joshi. "She used to be a professor of history and perhaps that is the reason why she has repeated her family history," he said, while insisting that her leaving would have no impact on the Congress Party.
Congress Party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, called Joshi an "opportunist," who was looking for a safe seat because she feared losing her current seat to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's sister-in-law.
"Her opponent this time is Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's younger brother's wife and that is why she was looking for a safe seat since long, because she thought that she won't win. That safe seat she searched in the SP, BSP, and now went to the BJP," he said.