New Delhi: The upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be the most crucial state poll that the BJP will face after registering a historic victory in 2014 general elections.
The BJP is out of power in the state for 14 years now. Rajnath Singh was the last BJP Chief Minister in the state who ruled from 28 October 2000 to 8 March 2002.
Mayawati-led BSP won the subsequent 2002 Assembly elections and from then onwards, power in the state has been changing hands between BSP and SP alternately.
And the BJP has been reduced to the margins in state politics. Presently, in a house of 403 members, the party has only 41 MLAs.
The party’s fortunes, however, changed dramatically in the state during the 2014 general elections when the BJP, riding on the Modi wave, swept the state. The saffron party along with its ally Apna Dal won an unprecedented 73 seats out of a total of 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
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The historic victory in 2014 Lok Sabha polls boosted the morale of BJP rank and file and the party started dreaming of a similar victory in 2017 Assembly elections.
Modi’s confidante Amit Shah was credited with scripting the success story of the BJP in the state and he was rewarded with the top position in the party. Shah started working on the strategy for UP Assembly elections right from day one of taking over as the national president of the BJP.
The BJP sounded the election bugle in the state with a massive rally of Prime Minister in Saharanpur on May 26 last month which was also the second anniversary of Modi government at the centre.
The BJP has set an ambitious target of 265 plus seats for itself in upcoming Assembly polls.
The problem is that while the party had a charismatic face of Narendra Modi in 2014 general elections to rely upon, it does not have a single leader at the state level who could be acceptable to different sections of a caste-driven society besides having the ability to keep various factions of the party united.
Should the BJP declare its CM candidate for UP elections? Well, there is no unanimity in the party over this issue.
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There is one section which says that the Indian polity is increasingly becoming personality centric and that the party should learn from the success stories of 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as the recent victory in Assam Assembly elections.
They point out that a strong personality as the party’s face in both these elections paved the way for the spectacular victory for the BJP.
They also point out that the lack of a credible face in Bihar cost the party dearly which ultimately led to the BJP losing a golden opportunity to dethrone Nitish Kumar. It was the same state, they don’t fail to remind, that gave 33 Lok Sabha seats to BJP in 2014 when it had a credible face of Narendra Modi as its PM candidate.
The other side, however, is of the opinion that the party won state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir without declaring any CM candidate and the party should stick to that policy especially when there is not a single leader in UP who has got the charisma that is anywhere near to that of PM Modi. This section also reminds how the party lost Delhi Assembly elections despite having Kiran Bedi as the CM candidate.
If media reports emanating from Uttar Pradesh are to be believed, this section wants the party to divide UP into 6 zones on the pattern of RSS and let different leaders lead the campaign in these zones. They are reportedly of the opinion that if the party manages to win Assembly elections, any one of these 6 leaders could be made the CM.
Political observers point out that UP politics, more like Bihar and most other north Indian states is deeply divided on caste line and it is not easy for the BJP to pick a CM candidate who would be acceptable to all castes.
A closer look at the caste composition of UP reveals that the OBCs constitute around 40% of the electorate, Dalits 21%, Brahmins 11-13%, Thakurs 9% and Muslims around 19%.
Among OBCs, Yadavs constitute 9% of the total electorate while Kushwahas are 8% with Kurmis constituting 3-4%, Lodh 2.2% and Jats 1.7% (Mainly powerful in Western UP) of the electorate.
Among Dalits, Jatavs alone constitute 10-12% of the electorate and they are loyal supporters of BSP supremo Mayawati.
Now, the BJP appears to be in a fix over announcing its CM candidate. It knows that a majority of Yadavas will vote for Mulayam Singh-led SP and a majority of Jatavas will vote for Mayawati. It has no hopes from Muslims anyways.
Therefore, the party wants to focus on non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits besides consolidating support among its traditional upper caste support base.
The BJP is known for its good hold among the upper castes of the state especially Brahmins and Thakurs.
Now the problem is that if it announces a Thakur candidate, the Brahmins may desert the party and vice-versa because the state has a history of a fierce rivalry between the two communities.
It is said that a large section of the Brahmins shunned the BJP in 2002 Assembly elections because the party was being led by a Thakur, Rajnath Singh.
That’s one reason why there is no unanimity in the party over making Rajnath Singh the CM candidate once again. Rajnath Singh himself is reportedly unhappy with media reports speculating on his candidature because he has not forgotten 2002 and believes that it could be a deliberate plan to make him a scapegoat if the party loses the Assembly elections.
In 2014 general elections, the BJP benefitted because a large section of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits voted for the party because they were impressed with the personality of Narendra Modi and wanted to give him a chance but in state Assembly elections, every caste looks up to its own leaders.
The BJP is well aware of this fact and that’s why it has handed over the reins of the party in the state to Keshav Prasad Maurya who comes from Kushwaha community that constitutes 8% of the electorate.
Apart from being associated with RSS and VHP for a long time, the USP of KP Maurya is that he commands respect among Kurmis, Lodhs, Kushwahas and other non-Yadav OBCs of Eastern UP. But the BJP may not declare him the CM candidate because it may infuriate its upper caste vote bank.
Long list of CM aspirants
The other headache for the party is that it has a long list of CM aspirants who are desperate to occupy the CM chair.
From Smriti Irani to Yogi Adityanath, Manoj Sinha and Mahesh Sharma, there is an unending list of aspirants. The problem is that there is no unanimity over either of these names.
As far as Smriti Irani is concerned, she can’t lead the party in a state in which the first question that party men enquire about the leader is about his or her caste. The party cadres are reportedly not enthusiastic about her candidature.
Yogi Adityanath is a hard core Hindutva leader but he belongs to the Thakur community that puts him in the same category as that of Rajnath Singh. His candidature runs the risk of alienating Brahmins.
Manoj Sinha is a Kurmi by caste. This community is not that powerful numerically and therefore his candidature has his own limitations.
Similarly the party is not sure whether Mahesh Sharma, being a Brahmin , will inspire confidence among the OBCs and SCs of the state who are craving to lead the power centre instead of being led by the traditional upper castes especially Brahmins.
Varun Gandhi desperate for CM candidature
Another BJP leader who is pushing his candidature very aggressively is Varun Gandhi. Varun repeatedly points out that he is the first choice of the party cadre as it has been reportedly revealed in an internal survey of the party. But the problem for Varun is that he is not in good books of either Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. Both Modi and Shah were unhappy with his behaviour when he was made in-charge of West Bengal during 2014 general elections.
His refusal to openly target Nehru-Gandhi family is also said to have created doubts over his loyalty in the party circles. He is said to be maintaining a good rapport with central leadership of RSS but that won’t be good enough unless both Modi and Shah approve his candidature which looks highly unlikely.
Search on for a Kalyan Singh-like CM face
Actually, the political observers point out that the BJP is looking for a CM candidate like Kalyan Singh who successfully brought OBCs and upper castes of the state under one umbrella in 1991 although it’s also true that the Ram temple movement had played an important role in unifying different sections of Hindus at that time but Kalyan Singh’s persona had definitely worked as an effective adhesive.
There were talks of BJP once again projecting Kalyan Singh as the CM candidate in 2017 Assembly elections but his poor health has reportedly pushed him out of the race.
Meanwhile, the BJP continues to hunt for a CM candidate like Kalyan Singh who could do another successful experiment with social engineering.
No one knows whether the party will finally find a CM candidate before elections or not. The party does not want to take any decision in haste and that’s the reason why it is hesitant in declaring the CM candidate.