The question over the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh is likely to dominate the two-day National Executive meeting of the party beginning Sunday, with senior leaders mulling whether the BJP should float a face for the top post in the state.

Though there is strong pressure from the state unit to project a chief ministerial candidate, as was done in the Assam elections, the central leadership is treading very cautiously on the issue. “It is a complex issue. UP is a big state where the caste factor is very crucial. No decision has been taken on who should be the chief ministerial candidate or whether the party should project a chief ministerial candidate at all,” said a senior BJP source.

The source said there is no “fixed rule” for declaring a CM candidate. “In Assam, we announced Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief ministerial candidate and succeeded. But declaring Kiran Bedi as the CM candidate in Delhi led us to defeat. In Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, we did not declare CM candidates and still won. But in Bihar, not declaring the CM candidate cost us. So there cannot be a uniform rule for this,” he said. In the case of UP, the source said: “We have observed that whenever we declared a chief ministerial candidate in UP, the party’s number of seats went down. In 2012, Uma Bharti was the de facto CM candidate, but the party lost. Similarly, in 2002 and 1974 (when BJP was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh), the party announced Kalyan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee respectively, but its seats went down.”

According to the source, the party is finding difficult to pick a “suitable candidate” in UP. “The BJP has been out of power for the past 15 years, and hence we have not been able to groom leaders in all these years. Of course, we had many leaders of stature earlier. But they have grown old and are least likely to attract voters,” he said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh is a well-known face in UP.

However, sources said Singh is not keen to return to state politics. Other faces include Kalraj Mishra, now a Union minister and Kalyan Singh, Governor of Rajasthan. But Kalraj Mishra is 74 years old, while Kalyan Singh is 84. Among the younger lot, Varun Gandhi (36) is also a known face, but, sources said, the top brass is not too keen on his name. Yogi Adityanath’s name is also doing the rounds. However, his hardline Hindutva image may go against his candidature.

In the two-day meet, BJP leaders will also deliberate on the overall strategy for the Assembly polls in the state. The party will also discuss its plan of action for other Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Mizoram, all scheduled for next year.

According to BJP sources, the recent violence in Mathura will also dominate the proceedings of the Allahabad meeting and the party will highlight the “bad administration” of the Samajwadi Party government.

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