Caste, Sangh affiliations, acceptability dictate choice of BJP UP state chiefs

NEW DELHI,AMITA SHAH: A year ahead of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP declared Keshav Prasad Maurya, a low profile OBC MP with his antecedents in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and RSS, as the party’s state chief.

It was after around six months of deliberations on the choice for the post of party president for UP, the next high-stake battle for the BJP, and considering over nearly half a dozen names that the party finally made the announcement on Friday. Party chiefs of four other states were also named. These included BS Yeddyurappa, former chief minister and Lingayat leader, in Karnataka, union minister Vijay Sampla, a dalit leader, in Punjab, K Lakshman, a Kapu (OBC), in Telangana and former MP Tapir Gao in Arunachal Pradesh.

Caste factor and affiliations with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seem to have been on top of BJP president Amit Shah’s mind while constituting his new team of party’s state chiefs.

Maurya had won by over three lakh votes from Phulpur, a constituency the BJP had never before won. He belongs to the Koeri community, which like Kushwaha belongs to the non-Yadav OBC castes that the party is targeting in the state, as takes on Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP.

The 47-year-old party leader has been a full-time pracharak for 14 years, a Prant Sangathan Mantri of VHP, was in the RSS Baal Swayam Sevak and participated in agitations for Ramjanmabhoomi, Gau Raksha (cow protection) and Hindu causes.

His profile on the Lok Sabha site describes his profession as “businessman” while his favourite pastime is “listening to songs of patriotism and Veer Rasa”.

“He comes from a poor family. His father was a farmer and he sold tea and newspapers to pay for his studies,” BJP general secretary Arun Singh said making the announcements about the new appointments at a press conference here.

Party sources said the fact that he was a young face acceptable to all besides his background gave him an edge over several party heavyweights, like Dinesh Sharma, Manoj Sinha, Dharampal Singh and Swatantra Dev. The decision on Maurya’s name was taken at a meeting held in the Capital last month, they said. Also, there is speculation that if the BJP decides to project a chief ministerial candidate, the name would in all likelihood belong to the upper caste.

In Karnataka, Yeddyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader who also has a RSS background, will be the party’s face. He was forced to step down in the face of graft allegations, following which he floated his own outfit. It was ahead of the Lok Sabha elections that he returned to the BJP and won from the Shimoga seat. It was under his leadership that the party had won for the first time in Karnataka.

While elections are due in Karnataka in 2018, Punjab will go to polls next year along with UP. In Telangana, which goes to polls in 2019, the BJP has chosen a person from the Kapu community, an influential intermediate caste.