Bittu makes it a baker’s dozen — how scions of former Congress CMs have flocked to BJP

Gun Rights

The latest Congress dynast to quit the party, Bittu follows in the footsteps of the so-called young guns Milind Deora, R.P.N. Singh, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who were once considered close to Rahul Gandhi. While these Congress dynasts have cited reasons ranging from the party’s “disconnect” from the people and “bankruptcy” to their pursuit of “development”, former Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha came up with three other factors that could have led to their switch. 

“One, they are part of a dynasty, thus had easy access to the top leadership. If that access got dented, for whatever reason, they felt that they were ignored or sidelined,” said Jha, who was suspended from the party in 2020 after calling for a “reawakened and revitalised Congress”.  

Second, Jha said, leaders who have responsibility or influence from a young age are not used to staying without it for too long. “If they see they are becoming politically irrelevant, they begin to get worried,” he said.

The third factor, according to him, is that “coming from a political family also carries a certain baggage of living up to certain social expectations or peer pressure”.

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Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said electoral prospects are usually behind such decisions. “…they don’t see a political future in the party that they are in. They are moving towards a party they think has a better electoral prospect,” said Verma.

But, Jha said, the trend would reverse in favour of the Congress if it returned to power. “If tomorrow, the Congress returns to power, most of them would be more than happy to return,” he said.

Verma agreed, saying, “If you think about the 1960s or 1970s, a lot of politicians would join the Congress party. Sometimes, the Congress used to poach (leaders from other parties). At the moment, the BJP is in a similar position.” 

“Any party that happens to be stronger will attract politicians of all hues and colours because it can offer them better electoral prospects. In the end, politicians are in the business of politics. They want to brighten their career prospects,” he added.

ThePrint looks at 12 cases like Bittu’s — scions of former Congress CMs switching to the BJP over the past 10 years.

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Padmaja Venugopal, daughter of K. Karunakaran

Bittu joined the BJP just weeks after former Kerala CM K. Karunakaran’s daughter, Padmaja Venugopal. 

While quitting the Congress earlier this month, she said, “There should be a strong leadership in every party. In the Congress, there is no leadership. I have great respect for Sonia ji. But I can’t see her. She didn’t give (me) an appointment.” 

Addressing a press conference at the BJP headquarters, Venugopal said that while she was happy to have joined the party, she was also a “little bit tense” because she was with the Congress for many years. 

Her joining was a shot in the arm for the BJP, which has been trying to gain ground in the southern state.

Ashok Chavan, son of Shankarrao Chavan

Ashok Chavan has the distinction of not only being the son of a chief minister but also a chief minister himself between 2008 and 2010. He joined the BJP last month. His father, Congress leader Shankarrao Chavan, served as the chief minister of Maharashtra during the emergency from 1975 to 1977 and again from 1986 to 1988.

Soon after inducting the younger Chavan, the BJP nominated him to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. 

Though a prominent leader of his time, Chavan lost the Nanded Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by over 40,000 votes. From 2014 to 2019, he was the Congress chief in the state.

He also served as a minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, an alliance of the Congress, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, till 2022.

While joining the BJP, Chavan said, “Taking (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s inspiration, I should be able to work towards Maharashtra’s and the country’s development.” 

Anil Antony, son of A.K. Antony

Anil Antony, the son of former Union defence minister and Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony, joined the BJP last year. 

A.K. Antony served as Kerala’s chief minister three times. Though he is no longer active in politics, the 83-year-old has called his son’s decision “wrong” and said it pained him. 

The BJP appointed Anil Antony as its national spokesperson soon after his induction. He will fight the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from Pathanamthitta as the party attempts to grow its footprint in the state. 

“Every Congress worker believes they are working for a family,” he said after joining the BJP. In his resignation letter, he had attacked the Gandhis, saying they are “only keen to work with a bunch of sycophants and chamchas” who would “unquestionably” be at their “beck and call”.

Also read: Foes in Kerala, friends outside — how contradictions in Congress-Left equation are playing out in state

Om Prakash Pahadia, son of Jagannath Pahadia

Ahead of the 2023 Rajasthan assembly polls, BJP inducted Om Prakash Pahadia, the son of former Rajasthan chief minister Jagannath Pahadia, along with Vijendra Singh Shekhawat, the nephew of former President Pratibha Patil.

The elder Pahadia, a Congress leader, was considered close to Sanjay Gandhi and served as Rajasthan’s only Dalit chief minister between 1980-81. He also served as governor of Haryana and Bihar in two different stints. 

His son has been less fortunate. The Congress fielded him from the Weir assembly seat in Bharatpur in the 2013 state elections. But he lost the seat, previously held by his father.  

His mother, Shanti Pahadia, also a Congress member, was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan in 1984.

Raninder Singh, son of Amarinder Singh

Raninder Singh, who now writes “Modi ka Parivar” on his X bio, once fought with people on the platform, saying, “I am in (the) Congress, and I’m proud of it. What’s bugging you?” 

A four-time president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), he is the son of former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh.

Amarinder Singh twice served as Punjab chief minister, from 2002 to 2007 and from 2017 to 2021. He joined the BJP in 2022, along with some members of his family, including Raninder. 

In 2012, Raninder Singh fought the Punjab state polls from Samana on a Congress ticket and lost. The Congress went on to form the government that year.

Jai Inder Kaur, daughter of Amarinder Singh

Like Raninder, his sister Jai Inder Kaur joined the BJP with other family members in September 2022. 

Her mother, Preneet Kaur, has been elected to the Patiala Lok Sabha seat four times, and it has been speculated that the BJP may field either the mother or the daughter this time.

Jai Inder Kaur now heads BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Punjab.

Patiala is the stronghold of Amarinder Singh, who is a member of the region’s erstwhile royal family. After leaving the Congress in 2021, Amarinder floated his own party, Punjab Lok Congress. Kaur was the party’s vice president till it merged with the BJP.

Rohit Shekhar Tiwari, son of N.D. Tiwari

Rohit Shekhar Tiwari joined the BJP in January 2017 with his 91-year-old father, former Congress leader N.D. Tiwari. It was a shot in the arm for the BJP, coming ahead of the state assembly polls. But the younger Tiwari was murdered in 2019, and a case against his wife is sub-judice.

N.D. Tiwari is the only politician to have served as chief minister of two states in the country. While in the Congress, he served as Uttar Pradesh chief minister three times — 1976-77, 1984-85, and 1988-89 — and in Uttarakhand from 2002 to 2007. He also served as the Union external affairs minister under Rajiv Gandhi. After his tenure as Uttarakhand CM, he served as Andhra Pradesh governor from 2007 to 2009. 

Vishwajit Rane, son of Pratapsingh Rane

Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane is the son of Congress leader Pratapsingh Rane, a seven-time chief minister of Goa. Vishwajit resigned from the Congress in 2017, citing the party’s failure to form the government despite being the single largest party. 

His wife, Deviya Rane, has also been a BJP MLA from Poriem since 2022. Her father-in-law previously held the seat after its constitution in 1989.  

Pratapsingh Rane continues to be in the Congress and is the party’s seniormost leader in the state. Father and son sat on opposite sides in the assembly between 2017 and 2022. 

In 2022, Pratapsingh Rane stepped back and declined to fight the state elections after the Congress had already announced his candidature.

Also read: In its latest list, BJP fields Dharmendra Pradhan & Naveen Jindal, drops Gen VK Singh & Varun Gandhi

Pema Khandu, son of Dorjee Khandu

Five years after his father, then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu, died in an air crash, Pema Khandu became chief minister of the state in 2016. 

Like his father, Pema Khandu was sworn in when he was a Congress leader. But he and other MLAs joined the People’s Party of Arunachal soon afterwards, and then the BJP within one year to form a new government. 

“The people of Arunachal Pradesh always wanted a government that was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s,” Khandu said while joining the BJP. 

Since Khandu’s switch in 2016, it has been a downhill slide for the Congress in the state. In 2019, Khandu was sworn in for a second time after the BJP won 41 out of 60 seats in the state polls. Once the ruling party, the Congress was reduced to four seats and came behind the Janata Dal (United).

Gurkanwal Kaur, daughter of Beant Singh

Gurkanwal Kaur, daughter of Beant Singh (and aunt of Ravneet Singh Bittu), is unique in this list since she has returned to the Congress fold.

In 2017, Kaur, while joining the BJP in the presence of Union minister Arun Jaitley, said, “My father laid down his life for the prosperity of Punjab; we sacrificed our lives for the Congress; but today, that party neither worries about the country nor does it care for us.” 

But three days later, she was back in the Congress. Amarinder Singh, who was with the Congress then, welcomed her return, and Kaur said she was happy to be back in her “political family”. 

Kaur served as an MLA from Jalandhar Cantonment from 2002 to 2007 and a minister in the Amarinder Singh-led government. As a sitting MLA, she lost the 2007 polls by 17,000 votes.

Beant Singh served as chief minister of Punjab from 1992 to 1995 before being assassinated in a bomb blast at the secretariat complex in Chandigarh.

Vijay Bahuguna, son of H.N. Bahuguna

Vijay Bahuguna, another second-generation chief minister, was among the nine Congress rebels who joined the BJP in 2016 when Harish Rawat was at the helm of state affairs.  

He is the son of Congress leader H.N. Bahuguna, who served as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister from 1973-75.

Vijay Bahuguna was the Uttarakhand chief minister during the 2013 Kedarnath flash floods, with the Congress asking him to resign over the handling of the disaster that left hundreds of people dead.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, daughter of H.N. Bahuguna

Months after her brother joined the BJP, Rita Bahuguna Joshi followed. Joshi, a former Congress chief in Uttar Pradesh, was considered close to Rahul Gandhi.

However, while resigning from Congress, she said, “Not just the UP Congress, but the entire nation is unhappy with the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.”

Joshi served in the first Yogi Adityanath-led UP government as a minister. Then she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Prayagraj in 2019.

(Edited by Madhurita Goswami)

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