RPN Singh jolts Congress, but BJP's gain or SP's loss?

The exit of OBC leaders increased RPN Singh's relevance for the BJP
Last Updated : 26 January 2022, 04:06 IST

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The switching of loyalties by senior Congressman RPN Singh to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) barely a month before the state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh has created waves in political circles of the country's most populous state.

Singh's exit is undeniably a jolt to the Congress, although the Congress high command should have known it was on the anvil. The more pertinent question is whether it would help the BJP in UP. Also, is it a loss for the Samajwadi Party (SP), seen as the mighty BJP's only challenger in UP?

More than any electoral loss for the Congress in UP, RPN Singh's exit could be interpreted as a setback to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's efforts to put the party back on its feet in the state. It is more so because RPN Singh's departure has followed that of trusted Rahul Gandhi aides, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada. RPN Singh, like them, enjoyed an enviable position in the Congress. Interestingly, all three have a shared alumnae background of the elite Doon School, as did RPN Singh's father, Congress leader CPN Singh.

Although RPN Singh was appointed Congress party's in-charge for Jharkhand, he has felt sidelined over the past two years since he lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Kushinagar, even losing his security deposit. The seat was won by a low profile BJP nominee, Vijay Dubey, while the Samajwadi Party's Nathuni Prasad Kushwaha stood second.

His political graph had begun to decline ever since he lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election during the 'Modi wave' after winning that seat in 2009. Even then, his winning margin was relatively slender with just about 21,000 votes, considering that the victory margin rose to 86,000 when he lost the next election in 2014. In 2019, his losing margin went up to nearly four lakh votes. These successive electoral losses contributed to the perception that his political profile was waning. His proximity to the Gandhi family ensured he was entrusted with the charge of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Scindia and Prasada reportedly persuaded him to bid goodbye to the Congress. While he was keen to follow Prasada in June 2021, the BJP did not see much political capital in importing RPN Singh. Prasada's Brahmin roots made him a catch for the BJP, at the time trying to overcome its "anti-Brahmin" image because of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's overt pro-Thakur stance. Meanwhile, RPN Singh's Kurmi lineage was not viewed as significant since the BJP already had sizeable support in the community in large parts of UP. But that has changed.

The repeated jolts the BJP suffered from the exit of several backward caste leaders, who crossed over to the SP, prompted its leadership to portray a semblance of recovering its losses. A political non-entity like Aparna Yadav was inducted into the BJP with fanfare to show that the party has symbolically dented the bastion of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav.

Likewise, the Kurmi OBC background of RPN Singh was considered to make for good optics. Much like Aparna Yadav, RPN Singh's entry has made headlines. But it is open to debate whether he would add any political value to the ruling party, which already enjoys the support of prominent Kurmi leaders.

Such a move could have served a meaningful purpose if someone with RPN Singh's profile had crossed over from the SP. Unfortunately for the BJP, it has failed to match the injury inflicted on it by the SP, which stole three ministers of the Adityanath cabinet – Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini - besides nearly a dozen sitting MLAs of the ruling party. Significantly, each of them belonged to the OBCs. This has helped Akhilesh Yadav shape the narrative that the backwards were gravitating towards his party now that it has emerged as the only formidable opposition against the BJP.

It became increasingly pronounced that Akhilesh Yadav was successfully stitching alliances with the larger chunk of the non-Yadav OBCs, whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi had systematically and painstakingly nurtured and wooed over to the BJP since 2014.

On paper, RPN Singh may be a part of the backward community, but he hails from the erstwhile princely family of Sainthwars, which diminishes his branding as an OBC leader. He has been a three-time MLA from Padrauna - 1996, 2002 and 2007. Subsequently, he also got elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009, following which he remained minister of state for home in the Manmohan Singh government.

BJP insiders were busy claiming that RPN Singh could come in handy as the ruling party nominee against Swami Prasad Maurya. RPN Singh had defeated Swami Prasad Maurya from the Kushinagar Lok Sabha seat in 2009. Interestingly, a year earlier, Maurya had defeated Singh's mother, Mohini Singh, in a bypoll for the Padrauna assembly segment under that parliamentary constituency.

It remains to be seen if Maurya contests from Padrauna. He has once won from Dalmau assembly seat in the Rae Bareli district. On the other hand, RPN Singh's options are limited to Padrauna or a neighbouring assembly segment in Kushinagar.

The election outcome would best judge his actual worth in political terms on March 10. But the fact remains that his exit from the Congress makes a more profound impact than his entry into the BJP. And sure enough, it would be naïve to believe that it could have any bearing whatsoever on BJP's key adversary, the SP.

(Sharat Pradhan is a journalist and author based in Lucknow)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 26 January 2022, 04:06 IST

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