FORMER UNION minister Beni Prasad Verma Friday quit Congress and rejoined Samajwadi Party — which he had left a decade ago — announcing that he will work to ensure a second consecutive term to Akhilesh Yadav as Uttar Pradesh chief minister when state goes to polls in 2017.
The 75-year-old leader enjoys a huge following among Kurmis — the second most dominant OBC caste and a major votebank in UP — and his return is a major shot in the arm for SP.
A Congress working committee member, Beni met SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav at his residence in the morning before announcing that he had joining the party at a hurriedly convened press conference in the presence of Akhilesh, cabinet ministers Azam Khan and Shivpal Yadav and party national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda. Beni had been one of the founders of Samajwadi Party.
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Along with Beni, former minister Kiranpal Singh too rejoined SP. A minister in the then Mulayam government, Kiranpal had quit SP to join Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in 2012. After losing the elections that year from Shikarpur (Bulandshahr), Kiranpal had left RLD. He is known as an influential Jat leader in western UP.
Speaking about reasons behind switching over from Congress to SP, Beni said he was finding it difficult to oppose Akhilesh and will now work to ensure that he gets a second term as CM. “I rejoined the party as I could not oppose Akhilesh Yadav. This party (SP) has been formed by me also. It was I who had named it Samajwadi Party,” Beni said.
Five-time Lok Sabha member, Beni had served as Union Minister for Steel during UPA-II. He enjoys strong support of OBCs, particularly Kurmis, and his presence had helped Congress win several seats in 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
“I was feeling suffocated in the Congress for the past two years and had no work. I thank Sonia Gandhi and Rahulji, but I was not able to adjust with the existing culture of Congress in UP,” he added.
Beni said that he had not joined Congress for any personal benefits and had never thought of becoming a union minister.
Asked about the critical comments he often made on Mulayam, Beni said, “The time, which has gone never comes back. I am not denying anything. For a new start, old things have to be forgotten.”
“Netaji (Mulayam) and I had started politics together. When Netaji had formed the party, I had given it the name of Samajwadi Party. We both are like brothers and we have healthy relations,” Beni said, adding “Bhai-bhai me jhagde hote rehte hain.”
Earlier, while in Congress, Beni had also blamed Mulayam for the Babri Masjid demolition.
Mulayam said he was “very disappointed” when Beni had left SP but “never felt hurt” at the remarks he made. “His joining the party will send a message across the country. Now, SP will not remain limited to UP. It will fight for Delhi too. Beni’s comeback has given a new energy to party,” Mulayam said.
Akhilesh said that the development will give a new direction and energy to the party and presence of senior leaders like Beni will ensure that SP will again form government in UP.
Speculation is rife within the party that Beni may get a ticket for Rajya Sabha elections in July when 11 of the SP members are retiring. On the basis of its strength in the state Assembly, SP can return six members.
Azam Khan said when Beni left SP, it caused a lot of pain. “His rejoining will give a good message to party workers and will help in strengthening the SP before the polls,” he said.
Once a bitter critic of Mulayam, Beni had been meeting the SP supremo quite often of late. His association with Mulayam spans over four decades before he parted ways with him ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
His “ghar wapsi (homecoming)” into SP is likely to have an impact on the electoral fortunes of the ruling party in at least 10 districts of east and central UP and also in Bundelkhand where the Kurmis and other OBCs are in sizeable numbers.
In 2007 Assembly elections, Verma had floated his own political party, but it failed to open account. In 2009, he formally joined Congress and contested the Lok Sabha election from Gonda, but lost. He was said to be feeling “marginalised” in Congress after losing the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Reacting to Beni’s return to the SP, Congress said the former minister is one of those who cannot survive without power. “Beni Verma who had been using foul language for the SP president in newspapers has today bowed before him (Mulayam) for a Rajya Sabha seat,” chairman of communications department of the UPCC, Satyadev Tripathi said.