BJP President Amit Shah may have repeatedly declared that the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) was the party’s main rival in the forthcoming assembly elections in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh but Tuesday’s union cabinet expansion indicates that the BJP is actually targeting the BSP as its main challenger in the state.
Of the 19 ministers inducted into Narendra Modi’s council of ministers, at least five are Dalits, two are from the OBC communities and three are from the Scheduled Tribes category. The BJP, which has appointed Keshav Prasad Maurya, a prominent non-Yadav OBC leader as its state chief in UP, has given a clear signal that its focus in the state assembly polls will be the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs.
Mayawati’s BSP with its 20 per cent Dalit vote base would not be able to form the government unless it can draw in the support of other Dalit groups, some OBCs, Muslims and Upper Castes — a formula it practiced to perfection in 2007 when it came to power with a clear majority.
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The BJP’s formula seems to be two-pronged: first, to fight the SP on the anti incumbency factor with a focus on the deteriorating law and order. The party has already launched campaign against “jungle raj” in the state.
Second and simultaneously, it will try to wean away floating votes from the BSP by wooing the non-Jatav Dalits, Brahmins and some sections of the OBC with symbolic gestures.
While Shiv Pratap Shukla, a Brahmin has been made a Rajya Sabha member recently, the other Brahmin in the revamped council of ministers is Mahendra Nath Pandey from Chandauli, UP. It also seeks to blunt the Congress’ bid to reach out to the community by projecting a Brahmin face—something Prashant Kishore, the key strategist for the Congress has been harping on. Other forward caste faces in the government are from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi.
By inducting Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel into the government, the BJP has played its trump card to neutralise the attempts of the SP to woo another dominant OBC community – the Kurmis– by bringing back prominent community leader Beni Prasad Verma to its fold. The party hopes the firebrand young leader, whose performance in the Lok Sabha has been impressive, will be able to foil the efforts of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to take away Kurmi votes from the BJP. Kumar, who belongs to Kurmi community, has addressed a number of rallies in Uttar Pradesh recently.
While MJ Akbar could be another Muslim face of the government, S S Ahluwalia’s induction is significant as the party is betting it big in Punjab where it is facing a fierce fight from AAP and the Congress.
The five new ministers from the SC community are Ramdas Athavale (Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra) Krishna Raj (Shajahanpur, UP), Arjun Ram Meghwal (Bikaner, Rajasthan), Ramesh Jigajinagi (Bijapur, Karnataka) and Ajay Tamta (Almora, Uttarakhand).