Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s half-brother joined rival Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, a blow to the incumbent Congress party that’s projected to lose power in nationwide opinion polls.
Daljeet Singh Kohli joined the BJP yesterday at an election rally in Amritsar, Punjab, in the presence of party’s prime ministerial candidate Modi. Although it’s not clear what role the businessman would play in the final two weeks of elections, voters in the majority Sikh state could view the move as an indictment of Singh’s decade as prime minister in a coalition headed by the Congress party, said Subrata Mukherjee, a retired professor of political science at Delhi University.
The world’s largest ever election will enter its final three phases in May, including critical swing states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Opinion polls, which show the BJP ahead, suggest Congress’ lead campaigner Rahul Gandhi is struggling to shed the party’s image of policy paralysis which led to double-digit inflation and the slowest growth rate in a decade.
“While Kohli himself isn’t an important figure, he could symbolize a shift in support from the Congress to the BJP in the eyes of voters,” Mukherjee said in an interview today. “It’s a smart political tactic, but I’m sure Kohli will be an insignificant player in a BJP-led government.”
Congress party Spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi said Kohli never played a role in Singh’s government and his joining the BJP wouldn’t affect Congress party’s electoral prospects. Singh’s Spokesman Pankaj Pachauri didn’t answer two calls made to his mobile phone today.
“You’ve never heard his name before yesterday, that is his political significance,” Chaturvedi said in a phone interview from Delhi today. “This is nothing more than a joke and an effort to convince voters of this false Modi wave.”
Modi, donning a traditional headgear worn by Sikhs, welcomed Kohli while campaigning for Arun Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in the upper house of parliament. He said the Gandhi family had wasted opportunities for improving growth, especially in trade and technology.
Since Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather, became prime minister after British rule ended in 1947, the Gandhi family has led India’s government for nearly 38 of its 67 years as an independent nation.
“Today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s brother Daljeet Singh joins the BJP, which will only strengthen us,” Modi told voters. “We are not a membership party, we form blood bonds which cannot be broken.”
The latest opinion poll released on April 14 by Hansa Research for the NDTV television channel predicts BJP and its allies taking 275 seats, three more than needed for a majority. Other polls show the BJP-led group falling short of 272 seats.
India has seen record turnout during the first six of the election’s nine phases, according to the Election Commission of India. Turnout has averaged 66 percent, up from 58 percent in 2009, the commission estimates. The last round of voting will take place on May 12, with all votes counted on May 16.