New State BJP Chiefs: Bid to Break Caste Code
Article123.pngThe sudden announcement of new BJP chiefs in UP, Karnataka, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh during the Hindu New Year earlier this month is a pointer to gearing up its loins for next year's assembly elections particularly in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. The strategy is to tap the other backward classes through those having strong Sangh moorings. Attention will be concentrated in the country's most populous state of UP which provides the maximum number of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha and 31 in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP-led NDA is in a minority. This is proving to be a major handicap for the centre in passing critical legislation for giving an impetus to economic growth. The pledge of "aache din aane wale hai" has taken a back seat because it has been a huge let down for the people even as the Narendra Modi government is about to complete two years in office. Barring Assam, where the voting in the assembly election has been completed, the democratic process will be on till May 16 in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the lone union territory of Puducherry.
The counting is fixed for May 19 when the results will be announced. The four states and Puducherry account for 51 seats in the Rajya Sabha. It is not a small number considering that the strength of the House of Elders is 250.After facing a humiliating defeat in Delhi and the battleground state of Bihar in the cow belt last year, it is only in Assam that the BJP has any chance of winning, thanks to its creditable performance in the state during the 2014 general elections. In West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry the saffron brigade might end up among the also ran. This became all the more evident when BJP president Amit Shah launched a frontal attack against Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa asking the people to defeat the most corrupt chief minister lock, stock and barrel. As of now it appears Jayalalithaa, who considers Prime Minister Narendra Modi a good friend, stands a good chance of becoming the chief minister for a record fifth time. If she retains power, it will be for the first time in 27 years. In West Bengal the Lotus party has lost its vote share by more than half compared to the last general elections when it had touched 18 per cent. It was the Hindi heartland and in particular UP which propelled the saffron brigade in securing a majority of 282 seats in the Lok Sabha for the first time since it was formed in 1980.
BJP's UP show in 2014 polls
The BJP managed to win a mind boggling 71 out of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha from UP. Its allies won two which boosted the NDA's tally to 73 setting a new benchmark. The BJP and the RSS activists had succeeded in polarising the votes. Can it be repeated nearly 36 months later in the assembly elections in UP next year. That is where the catch is. The situation remains fluid with the SP at the helm of affairs in Lucknow. People are disappointed with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav literally running a police raj. BSP Supremo Mayawati sees a great opportunity and is digging her heels in. She has been the only woman Dalit former chief minister of UP. The disillusioned people in the state particularly the MY (Muslim and Yadav) combine might be inclined to swing towards the BSP as she has ensured maintenance of law and order during her stewardship of the state in the past. She has assured the people that she will not indulge in building memorials for backward and oppressed icons like Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, her mentor Kanshi Ram or even herself. She will focus on allround development and bettering the life of the down trodden and the poor.
BJP takes calculated gambit
In a calculated gambit, the BJP brass has zeroed in on Keshav Prasad Maurya as the new BJP chief of UP. He is an MP from Phoolpur after having lost two assembly elections. This constituency was represented by the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Maurya is expected to boost the party's hardline Hindutva agenda and reach out to the non-Yadav backward castes in UP. His elevation over several other senior leaders comes as a surprise. Maurya can be a liability for the BJP as he faces charges in 10 criminal cases including murder, promoting enmity between groups, hurting religious sentiments, criminal conspiracy and rioting. BJP spokespersons have downplayed Maurya's criminal background saying that the cases were ""politically motivated"" during his activism and participating in andolans. He belongs to the most backward caste among the OBCs and has been part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for more than a decade. The BJP drew pointed attention to lacking a leader from the Maurya caste. He sold tea and newspapers during his childhood which rings a loud bell with Modi having taken that route and risen to become the country's chief executive. It is also aimed at building leaders among the intermediate castes.
The Congress reacted sharply criticising the Lotus party for nominating a ""tainted"" person with a criminal background which had exposed their true nature. It regretted that the BJP has not been able to find a single face having a clean image in UP. With assembly elections also due in Punjab next year, the BJP zeroed in on union minister Vijay Sampla sending shock waves among those jostling for the post. His impact in the state will be marginal because the BJP's fortunes remain tied to that of the Akali Dal. He hails from a poor family and has worked as a labourer in Jallandhar and later in the Gulf. A Dalit, Sampla had struggled to become a sarpanch and since then has gone on to become an MP and union minister. First and foremost he will seek a larger share of seats from the SAD in next year's assembly elections in Punjab. B S Yeddyurappa makes another comeback as the chief of the Karnataka BJP. A prominent Lingayat face, credit goes to him for forming the first BJP government in Bengaluru in the South. He was earlier forced to resign as chief minister over graft allegations and quit the party to float his own political outfit which failed to make any mark.
He is currently representing Shimoga constituency in the Lok Sabha having returned to the BJP ahead of the 2014 general elections. His main task is to uproot the Congress government in Karnataka. Assembly elections are due in the state in the first half of 2018. Former MP Tapir Gao, who has been made President of the Arunachal Pradesh BJP, is the only person without any Sangh moorings and relatively unknown K Lakshman picked as chief of the Telengana party unit.
(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal.)"