To eat into the Other Backward Classes votes of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party is contemplating to appoint an OBC leader as the next president of its state unit. The incumbent state president, Laxmikant Bajpai, a Brahmin, completes his term in December. According to sources, the BJP has shortlisted five names for the job.
Sources said that the search for an OBC face in UP was triggered by the recent defeat of the BJP in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav cobbled a handsome majority with considerable support from the OBC community. The BJP is also apprehensive of the possible threat it faces from backward and dalit leaders in UP.
Vinay Katiar, Swatantra Dev Singh, Dharam Pal Singh, Keshav Maurya and Prakash Pal are the five names that are being discussed by the party leadership for the state president’s post.
Vinay Katiar, currently a Rajya Sabha MP, was the face of the youth wing of the BJP during the Ayodhya movement. He served as president of the state unit of BJP in UP from 2002 to 2004. “Katiar is a Kurmi leader. His elevation as the state BJP chief will send out the signal that the BJP is reaching out to the OBCs in UP. His association with the Ram mandir movement will help the party retain its Hindutva image,” said a BJP insider.
Swatantra Dev Singh of Mirzapur is another Kurmi leader who is being considered for the post. He is currently a senior functionary of the state BJP and has an RSS background. According to BJP sources, Singh is a strong contender to replace Bajpai. “He is a favourite of the RSS brass. He is also being championed by state organisation secretary Sunil Bansal,” a source in the party said.
Other OBC leaders on the list of probables are Keshav Maurya, an MP from Phulpur in Allahabad; Dharampal Singh, MLA from Aonla; and Prakash Pal.
There is around 32% non-Yadav OBC electorate in UP. “The BJP’s calculation is that apart from the upper caste votes (around 17%), non-Yadav OBCs may help it win the 2017 Assembly elections. The Bihar election result has showed that the upper castes are firmly with the BJP. In UP, the Yadavs (9%), Dalits (22%) and Muslims (18.5%) are largely supporting the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party and therefore, the BJP has its hopes pinned on the OBCs. It is almost certain that they will project an OBC as their face in the next Assembly polls in the state,” said Kubool Ahmad, an expert in UP politics. Ahmad added that after Kalyan Singh, BJP has not been able to find a popular OBC leader in the state. “In 2012, they betted on Uma Bharti, another OBC leader, but she could not mobilise the electorate. This time, the BJP doesn’t want to take any chance. A local OBC leader who can reach out to the masses and revive the party, as was seen during the Kalyan Singh regime, is what the BJP wishes for,” added Ahmad.
Among the leaders whose names are doing the rounds, Swatantra Dev Singh confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that he is a contender for the state BJP president’s post. “I have received indications that the party is considering me for a key responsibility. But everything will be decided by the organisation in a democratic way. Right now, we have elected our booth level office-bearers and then we will elect block and district level functionaries. Thereafter, the state unit office-bearers will be elected. It will be final by January,” he said.