The BJP on Friday made a politically bold move to appoint Keshav Prasad Maurya as its party chief in Uttar Pradesh, BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka and Vijay Sampala in Punjab. It has also appointed party chiefs in two other states K Lakshman in Telangana and Tapir Rao in Arunachal Pradesh.
The appointment, of Maurya and Yeddyurappa and two politically significant states in north and south India, is an indicator that that the national party chief Amit Shah has not gone by the popular perception or the kind of political heat their nomination may generate outside of their party, or even inside a section of his own party. For Shah, it seems their ability to reach out to the larger numbers were far more important than their alleged involvement in some cases of crime or corruption.
Of the five party chiefs appointed -- Maurya and Lakshman are OBCs, Yeddyurappa of dominant Lingayat community and Sampala, a Dalit who has a name for himself by his sheer personal grit.
The 47-year-old Maurya, a Lok Sabha MP from Phulpur, succeeds Laxmikant Vajpayee, a Brahmin in UP. His appointment has come as surprise to many in the party. But that's what had happened over a year and half ago when the party tickets for UP in parliamentary elections were to be announced. The party nomination for Phulpur seat was held till the last minute. Many senior leaders were rooting for Sidharth Nath Singh, grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri and party national secretary for nomination from that seat. But Shah, then as party general secretary in charge of UP put his foot down and insisted that the ticket for this seat be given to Maurya. There had been several allegations against him but Shah brushed them aside and ensured that he was nominated by the party as its candidate. His name was announced just ahead of closure of nominations for that round of poll.
Maurya is an aggressive campaigner and believes that the party could be back in the reckoning in the state only if it wins confidence of non-Yadav backward and most backward castes' confidence and succeeds in wooing a section of the Dalits. Should that be the case, the upper castes would side with the party. Maurya has also has a strong VHP background.
A senior BJP leader from UP said Maurya was the late VHP leader Ashok Singhal's favourite and his appointment as UP BJP chief was his one of the last wishes. This was conveyed to Shah before he died. Shah too had a liking for Maurya. UP is a super high stakes battle for the BJP and Shah, by appointing a member from most backward comminuty as state party chief, has played his first card.
Yeddyurappa's return as the Karnataka BJP chief is equally interesting. Some corruption cases against him are still pending, but there is a belief in the BJP leadership that he would not be held guilty in any of these cases. There is also a perception among some senior party leaders who have been closely associated with party affairs in Karnataka that Yeddyurappa was treated unfairly by party patriarch L K Advani.
Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat leader has a strong social support base. His command over party workers is also very strong. His departure from the party had cost it dearly in the last assembly elections. By appointing him as party president, Shah has given clear signals that he intends to give an early start to for 2018 state assembly elections. After all, Yeddyurappa had led the party to its first victory in a South Indian state.
The nomination of Vijay Sampala in Punjab is equally interesting. Sampala, a Dalit who worked as a farm labourer in Punjab and later as a plumber in Saudi Arabia before turning to politics is a moving saga of personal grit. He won the 2014 parliamentary elections from Hoshiyarpur in Punjab and was made a minister of state in the union government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had then spoken highly of his calibre and hard work.
The party's stakes in 2017 Punjab assembly elections are high and the state has a sizeable Dalit population. Sampala would be expected to give a boost to BJP campaign.
The appointment of a two-time MLA, K Lakshman in Telangana and former MP Tapir Rao in Arunachal Pradesh as party president is again intended to give a message that the current Modi-Shah dispensation at the Centre is giving primacy to leaders with wider social support base.