The Dalit face of Congress, Krishna Tirath, on Monday joined BJP in a sudden move that caught everyone unawares. She had been elected for two terms from the reserved North West parliamentary constituency and was a minister in the UPA government. BJP is hoping that this will help it garner support in the Dalit community. The Dalits supported AamAadmi Party (AAP) in the 2013 assembly polls and are being wooed by both BJP and Congress.
Once considered close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Tirath told reporters that there was no discipline in Congress. In a scathing attack on the party that she represented for almost three decades, Tirath echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. She told reporters: “The country needs an able leadership and I support his (Modi’s) call for a ‘Congress-mukht Bharat’. I want to be with a party where I can work for people.”
Sources said Tirath had sought a ticket from Patel Nagar assembly constituency Congress gave it to former MLA Rajesh Lilothia as the leadership felt she was unlikely to mobilize support. Though Congressmen see her exit as no loss in terms of worker base, Tirath’s timing has embarrassed the party which is struggling to stay relevant in Delhi politics.
Ironically, Congress was accusing BJP of “importing leaders from outside” at a press conference when the news of Tirath meeting BJP president Amit Shah reached AICC headquarters. AICC general secretary Ajay Maken, who was releasing a booklet “exposing” Arvind Kejriwal, was caught off-guard and could only say that he was hearing about this from the media for the first time.
Senior Congress leaders tried to soften the blow by citing Tirath’s poor performance in the North West parliamentary constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
She lost to BJP’s Udit Raj and forfeited her security deposit. But the fact is that she has been associated with the party since the mid-1980s when she was launched on the political scene in the municipal elections. She contested the Karol Bagh assembly seat in 1993 and 1998. She held the post of a minister and deputy speaker when Sheila Dikshit was chief minister. In 2004, she won from the North West parliamentary constituency, emerging as a Dalit and woman leader in the party. During her second tenure, from 2009 to 2014, she became a minister with independent charge of women and child development at the Centre.
So far, BJP has been projecting Northwest Delhi MP Udit Raj, who had defeated Tirath in the Lok Sabha elections by a huge margin, as its Dalit face. This time, the party is hoping to make major gains in reserved constituencies. Of the 12 reserved seats in Delhi assembly, BJP had won just two against AAP’s nine and Congress’s one in the last assembly elections.
Welcoming her into the party, state BJP president Satish Upadhyay said, “Inspired by PM Narendra Modi’s leadership, Tirathji has decided to join our party. We are confident that she will strengthen the party’s base in the community (Dalits).”
This time, the BJP is optimistic of maintaining the lead it had secured in the reserved constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections. The party had managed to lead in eight reserved assembly segments, six of which had voted for AAP during the assembly elections. BJP managed a lead in AAP strongholds like Trilokpuri, Kondli, Mangolpuri, Karol Bagh, Patel Nagar and Madipur.
Though some BJP members say Tirath is a spent force as even Congress had denied her a ticket this time, they argue it will help BJP maintain the “momentum and send a strong signal that it is the leading party in the state.”