WITH BARELY months to go for Assembly elections to be notified in UP, the BJP Sunday expanded its state government by naming seven new Ministers in an exercise that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said reflects “social balance” and “gives representation to all sections”.
The party’s move comes in UP barely 10 days after it revamped the entire Cabinet in Gujarat, which goes to polls later next year.
Topping the list in UP’s expansion is former Union MoS Jitin Prasada, who had recently switched to the BJP from the Congress.
While Prasada, a Brahmin representative, took oath as a Cabinet Minister, the other six are Ministers of State, including a woman: Chhatrapal Gangwar, Sangita Balwant Bind and Dharamveer Prajapati (OBC), Paltu Ram and Dinesh Khatik (SC), and Sanjeev Kumar Gond (ST).
“Today’s expansion gives representation to all sections, has been done with the feeling of social balance, and carries the message of harmony,” Adityanath said, adding that it gives an opportunity to those at the lower strata of society.
State BJP leaders told The Indian Express that apart from Prasada, the others are leaders who “worked their way up from the grassroots within the party”. They include Chhatrapal Gangwar, who hails from Bareilly and represents the Kurmi community, Sangita Balwant Bind from Ghazipur, and Dharamveer Prajapati from Agra.
Paltu Ram is from Balrampur, Dinesh Khati from Meerut in western UP, and Gond from eastern UP’s Sonbhadra where his community is a key player in electoral politics.
While Adityanath stressed that the expansion gives representation to all sections from across the state, the opposition SP described the exercise as a “mere illusion” with an eye on the state polls to be held early next year.
“It is a drama being played to give representation to those whose rights were snatched… By the time the ink on the nameplates of these Ministers dry, the election notification would be out for the 2022 Assembly polls,” SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said.
While the stress in Sunday’s expansion is on the OBC community, Prasada’s induction is in line with a push from all parties to woo the Brahmin vote. The inductions, however, did not cover the influential Jat community from western UP, which is protesting over the Centre’s farm laws — the state government has announced a hike in sugarcane prices.
With state polls around the corner, the emphasis in the UP Cabinet expansion is on political signalling to the non-Yadav OBC community and non-Jatav Dalit community. The BJP has also tried to woo Brahmins by inducting Jitin Prasada given how opposition parties are courting the community vote.
The exercise ignored former bureaucrat-turned-politician A K Sharma, who had served in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). While some party leaders say Sharma has mainly been given an organisational role, others point out that he had taken VRS to enter politics ahead of the UP elections.
The inductions also indicate a sense of desperation within the BJP, with the state polls looming, as it comes during the “pitri-paksha” period considered to be inauspicious by Hindus when such changes, especially in politics, are usually avoided.
Prasada, who is the son of former Congress veteran, the late Jitendra Prasada, joined the BJP in June. Former Union MoS in the Congress-led UPA government and ex-Lok Sabha MP from Dhaurahra, the 47-year-old hails from Shahjahanpur and was once regarded as the “youth face” of the Congress.
Prasda, incidentally, had undertaken a Brahmin Chetna Yatra while in the Congress and had been made the party’s in-charge for West Bengal before he switched sides.
On September 16, the BJP had brought in an entirely new Cabinet in Gujarat, replacing all the existing names in the new-look government led by first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel.
The party has also changed Chief Ministers in two other states, replacing B S Yediyurappa with Basavaraj Bommai in Karnataka and Tirath Singh Rawat with Pushkar Singh Dhami in Uttarakhand.
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