In a major setback to the BJP in Gautam Budh Nagar, former MP Ashok Pradhan left the party and joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) on Tuesday, the last day of campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls.
Sources said he was upset for not being given a Lok Sabha ticket from Aligarh. Pradhan has considerable clout in Gautam Budh Nagar, especially among the Dalits. He represented the reserved Khurja constituency — out of which Gautam Budh Nagar was carved out in 2008 — four times in Parliament.
The move is being seen as an indication of the BJP and SP emerging as the strongest parties in the seat, and leaders aligning themselves accordingly.
The seat has seen several leaders switch sides in the last two months. While sitting BSP MP Surender Nagar has already joined the SP, Congress candidate Ramesh Chandra Tomar joined the BJP last week.
Attacking the BJP, Pradhan said, “The BJP has become a party, where there is ‘kharid farokth’ (trade) of Lok Sabha tickets. Senior leaders are being ignored and there is resentment in the party. No one cares about national issues, and there is a race to grab power.”
Pradhan was previously a Union minister of state, holding portfolios such as food and distribution, labour and welfare, human resource development, telecommunication and IT. Claiming that many other leaders were also planning to leave the BJP, he said, “This is not only my pain. Other leaders in the BJP are also pained by the current state of affairs in the party.”
Pradhan joining the SP is being seen as a big boost for the party. “Narendra Bhati (the SP candidate) is on a very strong wicket in rural areas, especially among the Gurjar community. Pradhan is an influential caste leader and, in Khurja, will be able to split BSP votes. This is important as some Congress supporters have switched allegiance to the BJP after Tomar switched sides,” a senior SP leader said.
The BJP was unfazed, so much so that there was very little campaigning by the party on the last day. Through the afternoon, party candidate Mahesh Sharma held meetings at his own Kailash Hospital, confident of victory. “The only debate now is what the margin of victory will be for Narendra Modi,” Dr Naresh Sharma, Mahesh’s brother, said.