Know Your Turncoats, Part 1: 18 in phase 1 of polls, half of the defectors in NDA

A series looking at the defectors contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

WrittenBy:Nikita Singh& Sumedha Mittal
Illustration of human figures with party logos as their heads - BJP and Congress holding UNO reverse cards.

It’s the season to jump ship. 

From Congress to BJP, BJP to Congress – ahead of the big polls, starting April 19, many politicians have used their UNO reverse card. 

A total of 18 candidates in phase one of the Lok Sabha elections switched their political allegiance at least once or multiple times over the last five years. Many of them had a change of heart merely in the weeks and months leading up to the general elections. 

Nine of them are part of the BJP-led NDA, including two Congress leaders who crossed over to the BJP and one switched to Shiv Sena Shinde faction. Six joined the INDIA alliance, and three the AIADMK. The defectors also include two BJP leaders who turned to the Congress, including an incumbent MP, after being denied a ticket.    

So, who are the candidates who switched? 

Jyoti Mirdha: Switch to BJP ‘after central action’ 

Dr Jyoti Mirdha is the BJP’s candidate from Nagaur constituency in Rajasthan.

Mirdha, 51, is a doctor who stepped into politics in 2009, contesting from Nagaur on a Congress ticket. Her rally that election was attended by Sonia Gandhi, and led to Mirdha’s victory over the BJP’s Bindu Chaudhary by a margin of 1.55 lakh votes. 

Mirdha had a little help – her late grandfather, Jat icon and farm leader Nathu Ram Mirdha, counted Nagaur as his stronghold. He won the Lok Sabha polls from here six times for the Congress.

Mirdha’s assets jumped by 3,300 percent from Rs 3 crore in 2009 to Rs 102 crore in 2024.

2009 was Mirdha’s first and last victory. She twice lost Nagaur to the BJP and its allies. Finally, she quit the Congress and joined the BJP weeks ahead of the 2023 assembly polls. At the time, the BJP was seeking a strong candidate to draw Jat votes in Nagaur. Mirdha’s initiation to the party in Delhi saw loud cheers – “Baba ki poti, Nagaur ki poti (Baba’s granddaughter, Nagaur’s granddaughter) – from BJP state chief CP Joshi

Mirdha’s switch to the BJP didn’t go unremarked. Her rival and former BJP ally, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party’s Hanuman Beniwal, alleged the move was prompted by “central agencies’ action” against Mirdha. Newslaundry could not find any evidence of such action. 

But over the past decade and a half, Mirdha’s assets jumped by 3,300 percent from Rs 3 crore in 2009 to Rs 102 crore in 2024. By the end of her first and only term as MP, her assets grew to Rs 58 crore in five years.    

Moving to the BJP also meant that Mirdha wiped her Twitter feed up to September 2023. Her account is now drenched in saffron with Narendra Modi as a cover image, with the text “Modi saathe Rajasthan (Rajasthan with Modi)”.  A faint image of grandpa Nathu Ram features in the background of her profile picture.  

The Congress in Rajasthan saw a host of defections to the BJP in the past few months. Sawai Singh Chaudhary switched alongside Mirdha, while 30 others soon joined them. These included Congress heavyweight Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya, Lalchand Kataria (known to be an Ashok Gehlot loyalist), former state minister Rajendra Yadav, and MLAs Richpal Singh Mirdha, Vijaypal Mirdha, Khiladi Bhairawa, and Ram Narayan Kisan.

Hanuman Beniwal: Jat leader with a series of u-turns 

Hanuman Beniwal is the RLP’s candidate from Khinvsar constituency. 

Beniwal, as a four-time MLA and a popular figure among Jat youth, had an eventful decade. 

He contested from Khinvsar in 2008 assembly polls as a member of the BJP, and won. In 2013, he contested in the assembly polls as an independent candidate, and won. In 2018, he formed the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party in 2018 and won twice from Khinvsar. His party allied with the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but cut ties a year later over the farmer protests.

Beniwal earlier accused Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of “spoiling Indian culture”.

He’s known for his tongue-in-cheek commentary. He was suspended from the saffron party for making public allegations of corruption against the party’s top brass, from Vasundhra Raje to LK Advani. 

Beniwal also didn’t spare his current ally, the Congress. During Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, he asked former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot to “get Rahul Gandhi married instead”. He also accused Gandhi of “spoiling Indian culture”. 

Beniwal’s social media timeline reflects his journey. His X account now is peppered with pictures of Congress leaders and posts of being a “family”. Just last year, he’d promised that the RLP would not ally with the BJP or Congress. Further back in time, his social media was flooded with birthday wishes for BJP leaders and appeals to “vote again” for Modi. 

It’s worth noting that Beniwal’s assets jumped by about 300 percent during his first five-year tenure as an MLA – from Rs 11 lakh in 2008 to Rs 33 lakh in 2013. Between 2008 and 2019, the wealth grew by another 381 percent. The assets doubled in the next five years to Rs 82 lakh.   

Rahul Kaswan: Once Rajasthan’s youngest MP, from family turf

Rahul Kaswan is the Congress’s candidate from Churu.

Churu is a traditional stronghold for the Kaswan family, electing three generations to the Lok Sabha over the decades – Rahul Kaswan, his father Ram Singh Kaswan, and grandfather Deepchand Kaswan. 

Kaswan is yet to clear his endless tribute to Modi on X.

In 2014, when Rahul Kaswan was 37 and a member of the Congress, he became the youngest MP to be elected from Rajasthan after defeating BSP’s Abhinesh Maharshi by a record of 2.9 lakh votes. He repeated his victory in the 2019 polls and was known to be close to the BJP’s Vasundhra Raje. His political trajectory resembled that of his father and grandfather, who were both senior BJP Jat leaders. Kaswan’s X timeline was an endless tribute to Modi, thanking the prime minister for everything from clean roads to India’s rail networks to being an inspiration. 

Things changed dramatically in March 2024, when the BJP announced its candidate from Churu. Not Kaswan, but Devendra Jhajharia, a 2016 Paralympic gold medalist.

Kaswan was clearly shocked. 

A week later, he posed for photos with Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and announced that he had “parted from the BJP” and would be contesting the polls on a Congress ticket. He hasn’t filed his nomination yet though we know from his first term that his total assets increased from Rs 2.57 crore in 2014 to Rs 3.67 crore in 2019. He also hasn’t cleared his X timeline yet of glowing references to the BJP. 

Uday Shankar Hazarika: One seat, four attempts, two parties

Uday Shankar Hazarika is the Congress’s candidate from Lakhimpur constituency.

Not much about Hazarika exists online. A quick search tells us he was once with the BJP, contesting three times – 1998, 1999 and 2004 – from Lakhimpur on a BJP ticket. He never scored a victory and finally quit the BJP in December 2024.

The former BJP man is said to be close to Congress state chief Bhupen Kumar Bora.

This election, Hazarika is back to contesting from Lakhimpur but for the Congress party, replacing three-time MP and former union minister Rani Nara as its candidate of choice. Nara’s spouse Bharat Narah, also a Congress leader, quit the party soon after.

Hazarika will take on incumbent BJP MP Pradhan Baruah. The former BJP man is said to be close to Congress state chief Bhupen Kumar Bora, who congratulated him on his candidature and also posted pictures from his nomination rally. 

Hazarika has no criminal cases against him. His assets have grown by 218 percent over the past eight years, from Rs 3.77 crore in 2016 to Rs 11.8 crore in 2024. 

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