The BJP’s campaign for the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh has started with the projection of a bevy of backward caste leaders at the forefront. As the party works to woo the OBCs in state, it has roped in more than two dozen backward caste faces, including the party functionaries from outside the state and several leaders who have switched over to the BJP in past few months.
Through two campaign initiatives – Backward Class conventions and four parivartan yatras – the party is planning to showcase its backward caste leadership with representatives from nearly all the castes that fall in the OBC category. The parivartan raths, one each flagged off from Saharanpur, Jhansi, Sonbhadra and Ballia, have photographs of six party leaders. Three of them – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Minister Uma Bharti and state BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya – are OBCs.
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Among those who have been roped in to reach out to backward castes through Backward Class conventions are Union Ministers Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti from Mallah caste and Santosh Gangwar, a Kurmi; Etah MP Rajvir Singh and MLA Dharmpal Singh, both from Lodh caste, and several other MPs, former MPs and legislators.
Former Leader of Opposition in UP Assembly Swami Prasad Maurya, Vinay Shakya, Anil Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Fagu Chauhan, all of whom joined BJP in August after leaving BSP, are also going to be part of the campaign. Party functionaries have been deciding the programmes of these leaders for the areas where their caste groups have substantial numbers. The focus has been put on gathering an audience of mainly OBCs.
The support from OBCs, especially those from non-Yadav castes, is being seen as pivotal for the performance of the party in the Assembly elections. As a strategy, the party has pursued the backward class leaders in last few months. It has inducted nearly one dozen OBC MLAs and former MPs from the BSP in last few months.
BJP national general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav has been camping in Lucknow to coordinate the conventions. He is also likely to address public meetings in coming days, with first of his convention planned to be held in Lucknow’s Bakshi Ka Talab constituency, which has substantial Yadav population.
With the ruling Samajwadi Party, the strongest claimant of Yadav votes, going through internal discord, the BJP leaders believe they will be able to attract the caste group towards them. A party leader said union minister Ram Kripal Yadav, of Bihar, will also be invited in the later part of the nearly two-month-long campaign, which started this week.
BJP state general secretary Ashok Katariya who is coordinating the conventions, said one such event is being held for every two assembly constituencies where at least two backward caste leaders will be the speakers. “Those who started their politics in the name of Ram Manohar Lohia turned his dream of equality into promotion of family members. They have cheated OBCs —- both the Yadavs and the non-Yadavs. Among the Yadavs, only a family and a selected few others have progressed. BJP has not only promoted a leadership from backward castes, it genuinely believes in creating a samatamulak samaj,” said Katariya.
The parivartan yatra started from Saharanpur was led by union minister and Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Balyan (Jat), Kairana MP Hukum Singh (Gujjar), and Baghpat MP Satyapal Singh (Jat), among others. The yatra started from Jhansi was addressed by Uma Bharti (Lodh), and BJP OBC Morcha head SP Singh Baghel (Gaderiya-Pal). The parivartan rath launched from Sonbhadra was led by Union Minister of state Anupriya Patel along with other party leaders. Anupriya who belongs to Kurmi caste, is from BJP’s ally in the state, Apna Dal. The last parivartan rath starting from Ballia will be led by Keshav Maurya.