India’s main opposition party shoots itself in the foot by taking in graft-tainted politician

NEW DELHI (13 January 2012) —The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decision to admit a corruption-tainted politician to its ranks ahead of the February elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has significantly damaged its prospects in the upcoming elections. And the man in the centre of the controversy has now left the party too.

Babu Singh Kushwaha, who was wooed by the BJP in a bid to draw support for the party at the upcoming elections, asked the BJP party chief Nitin Gadkari on January 7 — four days after his induction — to put his party membership on hold until he cleared his name of all corruption charges.

Political experts see the “offer” by Kushwaha, who was expelled from both UP’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government and the BSP in November 2011 over allegations of misappropriation of federal government funds, as BJP’s attempt to wriggle its way out of the controversy.

BJP had hoped that Kushwaha, who commands substantial influence over the “backward” caste community that he belongs to, would help the party garner votes in the caste-based electoral politics of UP. Kushwaha’s community, which forms 9% of the votes in the state, is known to vote en bloc along caste lines.

But the decision by the party president Nitin Gadkari was met with reservations by senior leaders who were against the party becoming associated with a tainted person — especially when the party was projecting itself as a serious anti-corruption political force in the country.

Many other BJP leaders from UP expressed displeasure with the decision, with Uma Bharti, who is entrusted with leading the UP election campaigning, announcing to her intention to take a pause in her responsibilities on January 6.

Sensing the BJP’s troubles, the Congress party, the biggest constituent of the ruling federal coalition government, went on an immediate offensive against their rivals.

“The Youth Congress exposed him [Kushwaha] and his corrupt practices. He approached Congress and pleaded to take him in the party and save him. But, we refused and said, we would not save you. You will be sent to jail,” Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said at an election rally in the eastern UP district of Gorakhpur on January 6. The BJP soon started facing derision in media reports too.

Senior political commentator Seema Mustafa, writing in the Daily News & Analysis a leading English daily, said that “the BJP has twisted its knickers by quietly bringing in a couple of nasty, corrupt ministers kicked out by the BSP”. Amid mounting criticism and the fear of likely political reversal in the politically vital state of UP, the BJP eventually, and ironically, reached out to Kushwaha to bail it out.

Unfortunately for the BJP, the matter did not end with the “resignation” of Kushwaha from the party.

Ramashish Rai, former youth wing leader of the party, alleged that a backroom financial deal was involved in the admission of Babu Singh Kushwaha into the BJP.

“Kushwaha had a deal with some leaders of the party and it seems monetary help was taken from him for contesting elections,” Rai claimed while talking to reporters in UP’s capital Lucknow on January 9.

A day later, Team Anna, the group leading India’s anti-corruption movement, decided it would no longer differentiate between the BJP and its original target, the Congress Party. It said it would hold both parties to equal account in upcoming elections in five states.

Many analysts believe that the Kushwaha fiasco has done irreparable damage to the BJP’s chances in the UP elections. With less than a month to go before voting, there may not be enough time to come up with a political platform other than the “anti-corruption” ticket.

Over 110 million voters of Uttar Pradesh will vote for a new legislature in a seven-phase poll staggered between February 8 and March 4 this year. The term of the present State Legislature is set to expire on May 20.


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