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Thursday, January 27, 2022

High-profile exit dents BJP’s OBC push, forces rethink at Delhi meet

The Samajwadi Party, which is emerging as the BJP's main rival, is hoping Maurya joining the party will be a big boost to its bid to add non-Yadav OBCs to its solid Muslim-Yadav vote bank.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: January 17, 2022 10:13:27 am
Amit Shah, Yogi arrive for B JP meeting in Delhi Tuesday for candidate selection. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

The exit of long-time OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya from the BJP Tuesday cast a shadow on a meeting held by the party’s top leadership on the Uttar Pradesh elections in Delhi. Maurya’s decision is likely to help the Opposition’s campaign that the Yogi Adityanath government is a “pro-upper caste” regime, setting back its efforts to woo OBC votes.

At the Delhi meeting to discuss strategy for the polls and candidate names, Adityanath was present along with Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, BJP state chief Swatantra Dev Singh and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, apart from other senior leaders. However, the news of Maurya leaving upset all plans. As did speculation that more MLAs might follow him out; Maurya claimed as many as 15 would do so.

So while the state unit had zeroed in on two-three names for every constituency going to polls in the first three phases, a call was taken to review the list given the new uncertainty.

Also present at the meeting were organisation general secretary Sunil Bansal, UP election in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan, co-in-charge Anurag Thakur, and national general secretary organisation B L Santhosh. J P Nadda and UP in-charge Radha Mohan Singh were also expected to attend, but could not as they are down with Covid.

Party leaders said that the BJP would have to rework its campaign for the state given Maurya’s exit and the message it sends to the politically significant OBC communities. So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath have been the faces of the campaign.

The messaging would also be conscious of the gains the Samajwadi Party hopes to make from Maurya’s exit. The party has been trying to expand its loyal Muslim-Yadav vote bank to include non-Yadav OBCs, who are estimated to constitute over 35% of the electorate.

As a minister, Maurya is the most high-profile leader to leave the BJP ahead of the UP polls. He had joined the party in 2016 from the BSP, where he was No. 2 to supremo Mayawati. Playing down the development, BJP leaders claimed Maurya was a fence-sitter for long and was sulking because the party had spurned his demand for a ticket for son Utkrist. His daughter Sanghamitra Maurya, the BJP MP from Badaun Lok Sabha seat, had earlier backed the demand for an OBC census on the floor of Parliament, breaking away from the party’s stand.

“Maurya leaving is not a shocker. It has been on the cards. It’s a one-day sensation, after which it will die down,” said a senior BJP leader.

That will be easier said than done. BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh, including a sitting MLA, admitted Maurya’s exit creates a “serious perception issue”, with the party and government often accused of not giving OBCs their due. It might strengthen the charge that the BJP uses backward class votes only to come to power, and then ignores them, despite the OBCs playing a crucial role in Modi’s emphatic win at the Centre in 2014.

Before this, another high-profile leader, Eknath Khadse from Maharashtra, had left in 2020. However, the BJP had sent a big message by inducting as many as 27 ministers belonging to backward classes in Modi’s Cabinet expansion in July last year.

All eyes in UP will now turn towards Keshav Prasad Maurya, the BJP’s senior-most OBC leader in the state who has been nursing a grudge for being made to settle for one of the two Deputy CM posts after the 2017 results, in spite of having led the party in the polls. Of late, Keshav Prasad has made several noises indicating his displeasure, including asserting that the issue of who would be CM should the BJP return to power was far from settled. This is despite Modi and Amit Shah making it clear that Adityanath was the face of the BJP state campaign.

On Tuesday, even as the BJP officially maintained silence over Maurya’s exit, Keshav Prasad issued a public appeal as he tweeted: “I don’t know why honorable Swami Prasad Mauryaji has quit. I would appeal to him to sit and talk as hasty decisions could prove wrong.”

However, things have not been all sugar and sweet between the two Maurya leaders. Swami Prasad knew he could never gain the same eminence as he had in the BSP as long as Keshav Prasad held the Maurya mantle. “While he could never be the top OBC leader in the BJP, he can be the top non-Yadav OBC leader in the SP,” a party functionary pointed out.

The heat for the BJP may first come from allies like Apna Dal (Soneylal), which also claims backward support, who would seek to press their advantage, a senior leader said.

Apart from the messaging to OBCs, Maurya’s exit puts the spotlight back on the functioning of Adityanath as CM, said a BJP MP from the state. “Some call Yogiji a polarising figure for other reasons. But inside the BJP, he is a highly polarising figure too. The party is divided into ‘for Yogi’ and ‘against Yogi’ now. While the first lot wants the BJP to return to power with his image and clout, the other side does not see a bright future under him,” he said.

The development might also trigger fresh questions over induction of leaders from other parties, a cause of much heartburn. “The cadre feel that their stand against this stands vindicated. They would question the wisdom of the leadership on the matter,” said the party functionary.

The SP’s non-Yadav OBC push earlier got a boost with the entry of Madhuri Verma, an OBC leader and MLA from Behraich; Rakesh Rathore, a lower OBC community leader from the BJP; Shiv Shankar Singh Patel, former minister and BJP MLA from Banda; Congress leader Bal Krishna Patel; and Ram Achal Rajbhar and Lalji Verma who were expelled from the BSP .

Another senior BJP leader and an MP, however, expressed confidence that the party could contain the damage from Maurya leaving. Admitting that there would be an impact on the BJP’s Kurmi / Maurya support base in Rae Bareli, Badaun and Kushinagar areas, the MP added: “Keshav Prasad Maurya’s presence will arrest any outflow of votes. Plus, Akhilesh will not be able to mobilise votes in other areas because, on the ground, the tussle is not between upper castes and OBCs, it is between backward castes and Dalits. Vote transfer is not at all easy. Even among OBCs, there is not a larger backward consciousness, it breaks into smaller groups and each one wants their political share.”

The MP also predicted a tough time for the SP during ticket distribution. “Its core support base will not like it if tickets are given to other groups.

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