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UP election results 2017: Rita Bahuguna’s switch to BJP has paid off

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-03-2017 Nikita Doval

New Delhi: The defection of a senior politician always makes for big news but in the case of Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in October 2016, it was also an indication of just how badly crippled the Congress party is in Uttar Pradesh. It was also significant because Joshi is a senior leader and a prominent Brahmin face in a state where caste still plays an important role when it comes to voting.

And Bahuguna’s victory in the assembly elections seems to make a point.

Joshi’s move to the BJP seems to have saved her political career even in the face of stiff competition from another dynasty politician, Aparna Yadav, the younger bahu of Samajwadi Party veteran Maulayam Singh Yadav and sister-in-law of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, in the Lucknow Cantonment seat.

Bahugana also boasts of impeccable political lineage, one that has served the Congress party loyally and industriously over two generations. The daughter of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, a Congress leader and a former chief minister of the state, and sister of another former CM, though of the state of Uttarakhand, Vijay Bahuguna, Joshi has been a loyal soldier of both the party and the Gandhi family for nearly all of her political career, though she has fought elections as an independent candidate and even on a Samajwadi Party ticket earlier.

She held the post of Allahabad’s Mayor from 1995 to 2000 but her attempts to get elected to the Lok Sabha always came to nought. In 2014, the party fielded her from Lucknow against BJP’s Rajnath Singh but she lost. She has been an MLA from the Lucknow Cantt seat since 2012.

A professor of medieval and modern history at the University of Allahabad, Joshi was once rumoured to be close to Sonia Gandhi and even served as the UP state president from 2007 to 2012. She was an integral part of the party’s campaign during the 2012 assembly elections and even defended Rahul Gandhi following Congress’s dismal performance.

So then what went wrong in the ensuing years?

First was the defection of her brother Vijay Bahuguna to the BJP which led to the party viewing her with distrust. Then came the announcement of Sheila Dikshit as the party’s chief ministerial candidate which led to Joshi feeling completely sidelined.

It has also been suggested that while she may have enjoyed the confidence of Sonia Gandhi, her relationship with the son Rahul was not always easy. During the Gandhi scion’s much-hyped kisan yatra in Uttar Pradesh, which took place in 2016 to drum up support for the party in anticipation of the elections, Joshi found herself completely out of the loop. In fact, Joshi spoke about it openly after joining the BJP. “The biggest leaders of the Uttar Pradesh Congress have not been able to act under the new leadership. Soniaji used to listen to us but that is not happening under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi,” she said after joining the BJP.

Joshi shot to national fame in October 2009 when she spoke derogatorily about then UP chief minister Mayawati’s compensation scheme for rape victims. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) reacted by torching Joshi’s house and throwing her in jail for 14 days.

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