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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Narendra Modi Cabinet big Rejig: UP gets lion’s share, seven junior ministers

Ahead of 2022 Assembly elections, BJP attempts regional and caste balance with focus on OBCs, SCs

Written by Maulshree Seth | Lucknow |
Updated: July 8, 2021 10:42:52 am
MP Kaushal Kishore with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before taking oath at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg in New Delhi. (PTI)

In Wednesday’s Cabinet expansion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked seven members of Parliament (MPs) from Uttar Pradesh in a careful attempt to make caste and regional balances in the state where elections are due in six months.

While the BJP dropped Bareilly MP Santosh Gangwar, who was Minister of State for Labour (Independent Charge), it inducted six new faces – BL Verma, Pankaj Chaudhary, SP Singh Baghel, Kaushal Kishore, Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, and Ajay Kumar Mishra – from the party and one from alliance partner – Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal (S).

In doing so, the BJP leadership gave priority to the Other Backward Class (OBCs), especially the Kurmis, and Scheduled Castes.

One Brahmin leader — Ajay Kumar Mishra — was also inducted into the revamped council of ministers, two years after Modi came to power for his second stint.

Also, the seven ministers hail from Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand, Awadh and Purvanchal regions of the state.

Return of Anupriya Patel

Apna Dal (S) MP from Mirzapur, Anupriya Patel, who had served in Modi’s first term as Union minister of state for Health between 2016 and 2019, made it to the council of ministers again, but this time as Minister of State for Commerce and Industry. The 40-year-old was dropped from the council of ministers after Modi came back to power in 2019.

Her re-induction is seen as an attempt by the BJP to keep its alliance partner Apna Dal (S) in good humour ahead of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. With BJP left with one more ally — Nishad Party – in UP following the exit of OP Rajbhar’s SBSP, the party wants to keep Apna Dal in its fold.

Patel belongs to the Kurmi community, which is a dominant OBC group in Uttar Pradesh and has a strong presence in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Patel’s Lok Sabha constituency, Mirzapur, borders Varanasi, the PM’s constituency, and has a strong presence of Kurmis.

Anupriya took over the reins of her party after the sudden demise of her father and Apna Dal founder Sone Lal Patel. The Apna Dal (S) had entered into an alliance with the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and Anupriya Patel was later inducted into the Union Cabinet and made Minister of State for Health. After the 2019 elections, she was dropped from the Cabinet.

However, her party kept bargaining with the BJP for significant posts in the Union as well as UP Cabinet, where BJP came to power in 2017.

“We have demanded the formation of a ministry for OBCs on the lines of the Ministry of Minorities to solve the problems of the backward classes,” Anupriya had said at a meeting of party workers on the 72nd birth anniversary of Apna Dal founder Sonelal Patel.

She met Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah the day UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was summoned to Delhi following criticism of the state government’s handling of the second wave of Covid pandemic from within the party.

Focus on Kurmi votes

Anupriya Patel was not the only Kurmi leader from UP to join the council of ministers on Wednesday. BJP MP Pankaj Chaudhary from Maharajganj was another Kurmi leader to make it to the Union council of ministers. He has been made MoS (Finance).

The 56-year-old leader began his political career in 1989-91 as a member of the Gorakhpur Municipal Corporation and later became its deputy mayor. He became a member of the BJP working committee in 1990. He was elected for the first time Lok Sabha from Maharajganj in 1991. He was re-elected from the constituency in 1996 and 1998, 2004, 2014 and 2019. His elevation to the Modi ministry shows the BJP’s special focus on east UP ahead of the Assembly elections in the state. With Samajwadi Party trying to woo the Apna Dal faction of Anupriya Patel’s mother, the BJP is leaving nothing to chance to consolidate the Kurmi votes in its favour.

Non-Yadav OBCs get the Attention

Apart from two OBC faces – Anupriya Patel and Pankaj Chaudhary – the BJP has inducted BL Verma, who belongs to the Lodh community, into the council of ministers.

Verma, 59, hails from Badaun district in western Uttar Pradesh, which is a part of the Rohilkhand region. Considered close to prominent Lodh face of the party and former chief minister Kalyan Singh, his selection is aimed at capitalising on the Lodh votebank. Verma has a long association with the BJP and was recently sent to Rajya Sabha. Well versed in Sanskrit, Verma is said to have done Masters from the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University of Varanasi.

Verma, who has become a Union minister for the first time, at present holds the post of the chairman of UP State Construction and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, enjoying the rank and status of a minister of state. He has been given the portfolio of MoS (Development of North Eastern Region and Cooperation).

The SC factor

Considering the importance of Dalit votes in the upcoming Assembly elections, the BJP has chosen three Scheduled Caste leaders from three different regions of UP – west UP, Awadh and Bundelkhand.

BJP MP Satya Pal Singh Baghel, who represents Agra in the Lok Sabha, has joined the Union ministry for the first time in a political career spanning nearly three decades. He has been made MoS in the Ministry of Law and Justice.

While the five-time MP’s caste has been under the scanner in the past with some claiming that he is from the OBC community, he has asserted that he hails from Dhangar community, a Scheduled Caste.

The 61-year-old has been associated with both the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the past. He won as a Samajwadi Pary MP in 1998, 1999 and 2004 from Jalesar. After he was suspended from the SP, he unsuccessfully contested two Lok Sabha elections as a BSP candidate. In 2014, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha as a BSP nominee. Baghel became president of the BJP OBC Morcha in 2015 and two years later he became a BJP MLA from Tundla before getting elected to the Lok Sabha again, this time on a BJP ticket from Agra.

His induction is also seen as BJP’s effort to balance the regional issue with the exit of Santosh Gangwar from the Union Cabinet.

In a surprise move, the BJP inducted its Mohanlalganj MP Kaushal Kishore as MoS (Housing and Urban Affairs). The 61-year-old was one of the BJP leaders who had questioned the handling of the second wave of Covid pandemic by the Yogi Adityanath government.

A day after Kishore lost his elder brother to Covid-19 in April, he wrote to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath expressing concern over the state of affairs at two government hospitals in Lucknow — King George’s Medical University and Balrampur Hospital.

Earlier, he had also made an appeal to allow the purchase of oxygen cylinders by patients who are undergoing treatment in home isolation.

Kaushal represents the Pasi community, the second-largest SC community in the state and has a strong presence especially in the Awadh region from where Kishore hails.

A two-time MP, Kishore began his political career as an MLA from Malihabad in 2002. In 2002-03, he also rose to be a minister of state in the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh government. He is currently the national president of the Parakh Mahasangh and is the state chief of the BJP’s SC wing.

The third Scheduled Caste member to join the Union ministry from UP is 63-year-old Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma. Verma, an old BJP hand, is a five-term Member of Parliament from Jalaun district of the Bundelkhand region. Sworn in as a Union minister for the first time on Wednesday, Verma had become an MLA in 1991. In 2001, he became vice-president of the UP BJP’s SC Morcha and a decade later, he became its president. As an MP, he was a member of the Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He has been given the portfolio of MoS (MSMEs).

The Sole Brahmin Face

Despite speculation of Jitin Prasada, who had recently quit the Congress to join the BJP, entering the Union council of ministers as the party’s Brahmin face in UP, the party chose Lakhimpur Kheri MP Ajay Kumar Mishra instead. Interestingly, both Mishra and Prasad hail from the same region. It was quite evident that BJP would make a Brahmin leader from UP a Union minister amid the Opposition’s charge of alleged atrocities and bias against Brahmins in the state. In fact, when Prasada was in Congress, he had launched a campaign alleging atrocities on Brahmins in the state under the current BJP government.

Mishra, 60, who is a first-time BJP MP, started his political career as BJP’s district general secretary. He was elected as an MLA in 2012 from the Nighasan Assembly seat and rose gradually to become a Member of Parliament. He has given the important portfolio of MoS (Home Affairs).

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