Updated: January 21, 2022 7:56:19 pm
KESHAV Prasad Maurya has been biding his time for a while now. Five years ago, he was considered the closest to the chief minister’s chair when he led the state BJP as it swept Uttar Pradesh. At the last minute, however, surprise choice Yogi Adityanath pipped him to the post. Now, while Adityanath is the face of the party in the state, Maurya’s claim cannot be as easily overlooked. The exit of several OBC leaders from its ranks means the BJP needs to keep its tallest leader from the community happy.
All those who have left, including ministers Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan, accused the BJP of ignoring OBCs. Swami Prasad specifically mentioned Keshav Prasad, saying the 52-year-old had been reduced to a “bechara (a helpless man)”.
The fact that Maurya has been smarting from the 2017 reversal is an open secret in the BJP. The deputy chief ministership offered to him – with Brahmin leader Dinesh Sharma as the second deputy CM – was as much a conciliatory gesture to him as to castes other than Adityanath’s Thakurs. In July 2019, further ruffling Maurya’s feathers, the BJP appointed Swatantra Dev Singh the new state unit president. A Kurmi, Singh is also an OBC face, and is considered close to Adityanath.
Since then, even as Maurya – the Minister for Public Works Department, Food Processing, Entertainment Tax and Public Enterprises — retained his hold among party workers, meeting them, redressing their grievances, equations have weighed more and more in Adityanath’s favour.
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Any doubts were settled when, at the start of the campaign for the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister Amit Shah declared that a vote for Adityanath in 2022 was one for Modi in 2024. Sources said senior BJP and RSS leaders, who held talks with state leaders in Lucknow in the run-up to the polls, also let it be known that there will be neither any change in the state leadership (CM), nor state BJP (Swatantra Dev). Adityanath’s visit to Maurya’s official residence in June – the first since the 2017 results – was seen as an effort by the leadership to patch things up between the two.
All that has changed in the past few days, with OBC leaders leaving the BJP. The community had been crucial to the BJP’s sweep last time. Backing Maurya, a prominent BJP OBC leader, who doesn’t want to be named, says: “He is accessible to BJP workers and ordinary people and tries to resolve their problems. Even when he opposed decisions of the government that he thought were anti-people, he did it at proper forums. Nothing came out in public.”
As far as credentials go, Maurya has all the right ones — a combination of “Mandal and Kamandal”, BJP leaders point out, the first one to symbolise both since the party’s late stalwart Kalyan Singh.
A native of Sirathu, 70 km from Allahabad (now Prayagraj), Maurya started out with the VHP. The second of three brothers, he was quite young when he started living at the outfit’s office at Kydganj in old Allahabad, helping senior RSS pracharak Thakur Gurujan Singh in his work. After a few years, he was appointed sangathan mantri (district organisation secretary) by the VHP.
Those close to Maurya say he tried to move to the BJP but, in the late ’90s, was sent by the VHP to Ayodhya as prant sangathan mantri (state organisational secretary). These were the years after the Babri Masjid demolition, when the VHP was very active in Ayodhya. Here, Maurya grew closer to late VHP chief Ashok Singhal.
However, he sought to return to Allahabad, and moved on to social work. Maurya’s attempts to again join the BJP were reportedly blocked by some BJP leaders, including then Allahabad Lok Sabha MP Murli Manohar Joshi. After Joshi lost the Lok Sabha poll in 2004, Maurya finally made it to the party and was fielded from the Allahabad (West) Assembly seat in an October 2004 bypoll. The seat had been dominated by strongman Atiq Ahmed for years, and Maurya could only finish third.
The BJP gave the ticket to him again in the 2007 Assembly polls, but he again came in third. Then, in the 2012 Assembly polls, he contested from his home ground of Sirathu, and won despite a Samajwadi Party wave.
Maurya’s stature further rose when in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he won from the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat, which was once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and was considered tough for the BJP. Around this time, Modi and Shah who were looking for a new face for UP BJP chief set their eyes on Maurya. He came from a community that is a big force in UP (including not just the Mauryas but also Shakyas, Sainis, Kushwahas, spread across the state). Just before the 2017 Assembly polls, he was named the UP BJP chief.
After he became the Deputy CM, Maurya was elected to the House as a Legislative Council member. For the coming Assembly elections, the BJP has fielded him again from Sirathu.
Sources said Maurya is playing a key role in the BJP ticket distribution, particularly in Prayagraj region. Asked about his role post-elections, particularly in reference to the CM post, Maurya told The Indian Express, “This is not a topic to be discussed now. As of now we are busy campaigning and we are getting full support among all sections of society, including SCs, STs, OBCs. We will win like 2017 again.”
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