#PunjabiTadka: Why party-hopper Ravneet Singh Bittu is the flavour of BJP : The Tribune India

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#PunjabiTadka: Why party-hopper Ravneet Singh Bittu is the flavour of BJP

Party insiders reveal that BJP leadership had been working on dyed-in-the-wool Congressman for long, much before Lok Sabha election

#PunjabiTadka: Why party-hopper Ravneet Singh Bittu is the flavour of BJP

BJP workers welcome Ravneet Singh Bittu in Ludhiana. File



RAJMEET SINGH

Congress mole, party-hopper or shrewd political leader — Punjab simply cannot stop talking about the meteoric rise and rise of party-hopper and three-time MP Ravneet Singh Bittu.

Every Punjabi wants to know how — and why — Bittu, within three months of jumping onto the saffron party’s bandwagon and losing the Ludhiana parliamentary poll to Congress’ Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, has still been inducted as Minister of State in PM Modi’s third NDA government.

The lightning success of the grandson of former Congress Chief Minister Beant Singh has left many in the Congress and even the BJP flabbergasted.

Bittu is not just a recent convert to the BJP, his induction into Modi’s Council of Ministers supersedes other party-hoppers who have been around for longer but like him failed to win — from Preneet Kaur, wife of former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, to former state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal as well as the unmissable former diplomat Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

With Sandhu also having lost Amritsar, his chances of coming into Parliament via the Rajya Sabha have grown remote by the day — as that is the route through which Bittu is headed, and two failed Sikhs in Modi’s government may be one too many to swallow.

Party insiders reveal that the BJP leadership had been working on the dyed-in-the-wool Congressman for long, much before the parliamentary poll.

After being elected as MP in 2019, it is said, Bittu began cozying up to the BJP’s top brass. Home Minister Amit Shah, during his recent Punjab election tour, admitted to being friends with Bittu for five years. Bittu often boasted of his proximity with Amit Shah.

The three-time MP was sometimes asked by the ruling party to raise issues of national security in Parliament. A fellow parliamentarian remembered how during the September 2023 Parliament session, when Amit Shah reportedly signalled Bittu to give a statement against Canadian PM Justin Trudeau amid the standoff between India and Canada over Sikh hardliners, Bittu jumped to do his bidding. Slamming the Canadian PM, Bittu said the money of those Canadians involved in the Punjab narcotics trade was being pumped into Trudeau’s party. The BJP responded by allowing Bittu not just to keep his family’s palatial government bungalow in Chandigarh’s posh Sector 5, but also his security cover.

The Congress leadership lost no time in accusing Bittu of being a mole who was interested in nothing but furthering the interest of the BJP in Punjab. A top Congress leader said Rahul Gandhi was aware of Bittu cozying up to Amit Shah, but the party feared that acting against him could create a backlash as he was largely seen as the inheritor of former CM Beant Singh’s legacy; the Congress leader added that no matter what, Beant Singh was an integral part of Congress history, and that included his legacy.

Some say that even when Centre-Punjab relations took a deep dive with the tussle over farm laws and the tension continued with the crackdown on Amritpal, the alleged targeting of Khalistan activists abroad as well as large-scale banning of Sikh social media accounts in India, Bittu was adopting pro-BJP positions on a majority of these issues.

Long before he joined the BJP, on the eve of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, on October 11, 2019, the BJP-led Centre issued a notification for the release of eight Sikh prisoners and called for the death sentence of Beant Singh’s assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana to be commuted to life imprisonment. Bittu strongly opposed the release of Rajoana. Interestingly, soon after quitting the Congress, he softened his stand on the issue.

After becoming MoS in Modi’s Council of Ministers, Bittu has changed tack again and now talks of giving justice to farmers and supports the release of “Bandhi Singhs” — convicts who have long-outled their jail sentences. He told The Tribune that he would strive to be a “bridge between Punjab and Delhi”.

By inducting Bittu as an MoS, the BJP appears to have killed two birds with one stone. First, the saffron party seems to have hijacked the “anti-terror” nationalist agenda in the border state. Secondly, it has put up a turbaned Jat Sikh face to speak the government’s mind vis-a-vis hardliners. Bittu is known for his strong stand against Sikh radicals. Bittu’s induction has also signalled a new approach of the ruling party towards Punjab politics. Many believe he will be propped up by the BJP as its face in the 2027 Assembly poll.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly, Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress, has accused his former party colleague of being “anti-Sikh”. Bajwa said his elevation as MoS is a message by the BJP that it will not listen to the voice of ordinary Punjabis.

Political analysts point out that Bittu may well have taken a leaf out of Capt Amarinder Singh’s book, who had leavened his mass base with anti-terrorist positions. “A young Jat Sikh face who has been riding on the anti-terrorism legacy of his father during his stint in the Congress suits the BJP. He can give the BJP traction among the Sikhs,” they said.

#BJP #Congress #Lok Sabha #Ravneet Bittu


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