The surprise appointment of 46-year old Lok Sabha MP from Phulpur in Allahabad, Keshav Prasad Maurya — a dark horse — as the BJP president of Uttar Pradesh underlines the fact that in the real battleground it’s still the caste strategy that rules the roost and not just the development plank.
Maurya, who’s considered a Hindutva hardliner in UP, has not been selected merely due to his long association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), but on the basis of an arithmetic strategy centered on caste politics. He’s an OBC candidate from the Kushwaha community that has a sizeable presence of around 8% in the state.
His positioning as BJP president in this arithmetic calculation is important due to the fact that on one hand the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) has a complete hold over the Yadav community and on the other the Dalit population is loyal to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). With an eye on the 2017 Assembly polls in UP, the BJP leadership has tried to target the rest of the OBC population comprising Kurmi, Kohri and a section of Baniyas etc, with the appointment of Maurya.
People close to Maurya and in the know of UP politics said, “In the past, Kalyan Singh had been a successful chief minister of UP. He gave a tough competition to the SP by using his OBC vote bank. Now, the BJP wants to follow his caste-strategy by pitching in Maurya as the state BJP president. He hails from Allahabad that borders eastern UP and there is a sizeable population of Kurmis and Lodhs in this region. Maurya has a good hold over them.”
These calculations ensured that Maurya emerged as the best choice among other frontrunners for the post. For the BJP, the 2017 election is going to be a matter of ‘life and death,’ more than for any other party, because not only Prime Minister Narendra Modi won Lok Sabha election from Varanasi in the state but also because the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls in UP, giving it heft in its national numbers.
However, Maurya doesn’t want to give credit to caste-based arithmetic for his selection as the state’s party president.
“BJP is a broad-based democratic party, with a strong leadership at the top and strong network of workers across the country. I’m grateful to the party leadership which considered a common party worker like me for the post and entrusted faith in me. Within the party, one can try for a post or a candidature till the last minute, but once a candidate is finalized for a job, all the workers and members across the party line join hands to achieve the goal. BJP has never been into caste-based politics,” Maurya told Firstpost in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
Besides, having a right-wing hardliner brand attached to his name, who ran a ‘Go-raksha chowki’ (Anti-cow slaughter campaign), Maurya has also been known for criminal antecedents, including a murder case registered against him. The affidavit filed by him with the Election Commission during Lok Sabha polls 2014, shows there were 11 criminal cases against him, including one related to murder.
The BJP placed its trust in Maurya in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, who was a sitting MLA from Sirathu in the neighbouring district of Kaushambi, and announced his candidature to contest from Phulpur constituency. This brought him to limelight, especially after he won to become the first-time MP. Phulpur constituency has witnessed candidates right from nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to SP candidate and mafia don-turned-politician Atique Ahmed.
“In politics, these kind allegations are there. The court has absolved me of these charges. I’ve been working amongst the masses with an objective to do good,” he emphasized.
During a free-wheeling chat with Firstpost, Maurya shared his views on his forthcoming strategy, including the Ram Mandir issue.
“We’ll win the 2017 Assembly poll on the same agenda with which we had won 73 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha election. Our aim is to achieve the target of winning 265-plus seats given to us by the party’s national president (Amit Shah). We’ll emerge as the winner. Both the SP and the BSP will contest for the first and second positions, but ultimately the BJP will bag the first position, and the other two parties will compete for the second and third slots.”
“I’ll be going to Lucknow for an important meeting on 11 April with the state leaders and workers, and thereafter with further discussions with the top leadership, strategy will be chalked out on how to proceed in UP.”
On competitors’ forming alliances and a grand alliance
“Even in the past, alliances-grand alliances were formed. In UP, the BJP is well-equipped to face any challenge. I don’t think the role of alliances or a grand-alliance is of any consequence in UP politics at present. There are 1.2 lakh booths in the state — out of which the BJP has made its reach up to one lakh booths. We’re working hard to reach out to the rest at the earliest possible. I’ll be meeting our party president soon and chalk out a strategy in this direction as well. Let the opposition parties do their work, we’ll do ours and give them a befitting reply at the right time.”
“At the moment, the people of UP are frustrated and angry over mis-governance and poor law & order situation in the state. Neither the farmers nor the youth are happy. It’s a golden opportunity for the BJP and we’ll utilize it in our favour.”
On Ram Mandir issue
As a VHP worker, Maurya had been actively involved in the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
“Ram Mandir will be built on the basis of Supreme Court’s verdict and a consensus. It’s not a religious or political issue; it’s a matter of faith. BJP won’t do anything against this. Once the BJP comes to power in UP, it’ll be easier for us to build the temple — again on the basis of consensus, especially with the NDA government at the centre.”
On nationalism and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’
“I fail to understand why people living in Bharat (India) don’t want to acknowledge it. What’s wrong in saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. You’re hailing your own nation. We’ve been saying it and continue to do so. I don’t want to comment on those who don’t say it and on their anti-national stand. But, neither the people of this country nor of UP will tolerate any politician, who speaks against his/her nation.
On BJP’s message to people ahead of UP election
“Our slogan and message to people is ‘Sabka saath, Sabka Vikas. Na goondagardi, Na bhrashtachaar; Hum denge achchi sarkar’ (No hooliganism, no corruption; We’ll provide a good government).”