Even as uncertainty continues over the next president of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit, there is considerable enthusiasm in a section of the party over the emergence of Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani as the party’s aggressive face.
Her speeches during the recent Parliament debate over JNU and Rohith Vemula issues have become a huge hit and there is a buzz in party circles that she may score over other contenders for the party’s top post in the state.
The BJP national president, Amit Shah, was in Lucknow on Thursday to inaugurate the refurbished party headquarters.
“No one dared raise the issue of the next party president during the meeting considering Shah’s formidable personality,” said a leader who attended the conclave.
It is learnt that at yesterday’s meeting many leaders from Lucknow and Amethi tried to spread the word that Irani is a popular candidate for either the post of party president or chief minister.
Irani’s aggressive demeanour in Lok Sabha on 24 February has won her many fans in the state. Many of them include women, housewives, students and senior citizens. The fact that she aggressively responded to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati on the Hyderabad issue has also not escaped notice.
“Being a fiery woman speaker, Irani is the right person to match Mayawati in public meetings,” said a BJP corporator in Lucknow.
Local media reports suggest Irani’s popularity among the BJP workers has been conveyed to senior leaders.
“She has given a fitting response to the ongoing debate in Parliament. The workers are not only enthused by her response, the respect for her has risen manifold,” BJP spokesman Chandra Mohan has said.
A tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailing Irani’s speech, combined with the fact that the video clip of the Parliament debate is being shared widely on social media have also strengthened the pro-Irani camp.
BJP leader from Amethi Durgesh Tripathi has been in the forefront of a campaign to promote Irani as the chief ministerial candidate in UP.
“Workers in Amethi are busy preparing the ground for Irani’s candidature and will work towards it,” said a BJP office-bearer.
The Union HRD minister visited Amethi several times last year especially after May, and every time she attacked Rahul Gandhi for failing to do anything for his constituency.
During her later visits, she also organised the unloading of a railway wagon full of fertilizers, paid the premium of Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Beema Yojana (PMSBY) for thousands of residents besides other such activities.
Irani did not fail to point out with adequate sarcasm that it was she whom people of Amehi had been approaching for getting their work done instead of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the elected MP.
Another report quoted a party source that Irani could be declared the campaign committee chief in the same way Modi had been declared as the party’s campaign face months ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“Later she could be declared as the CM candidate as the elections draw close,” he said.
It is also learnt that RSS, too, are not against Irani's candidature as they feel she responds appropriately to the campaign requirements.
“Her candidature will also take care of the rampant factionalism in the state party unit,” said an office-bearer, adding that she was known to be Modi’s choice.
Among the claimants for the post of both party president and chief minister are Lucknow mayor and national vice-president Dinesh Sharma, Gorakhpur MP and firebrand Hindutva leader Mahant Adityanath and Sultanpur MP Varun Gandhi, son of Union minister Maneka Gandhi.
Since the 2017 Assembly elections is expected to be a slugfest between the ruling Samajwadi Party and its rival BSP, it would be suitable for the BJP to have a candidate with a wide appeal. Irani, workers say, is the ideal candidate because of her appeal among women and the fact that she can be a perfect foil for Mayawati’s aggression.
Many BJP workers at the grassroots level feel the need for a rallying point ahead of the elections. Unlike an Akhilesh Yadav or a Mayawati, the BJP lack a party face. “It is unfortunate that in BJP there continues to be a dilemma on this issue,” a party convenor said.
Nobody is willing to come on record about Irani though.
“The immediate target before us is to make a huge success of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Bareilly on February 27. Our senior leaders have already reached there,” BJP’s UP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.
The BJP, he went on to add, had scored two major victories in recent weeks, one in Assembly by-election in Muzaffarnagar and the other for deputy mayor’s post in Ghaziabad. “Our workers are geared up to take the march forward under a new party chief,” he said.
Amit Puri, another BJP leader, appeared more circumspect on the issue of leadership. “The party has received massive support from the state with 73 party MPs getting elected from UP. The Prime Minister too has been elected from UP, and there should be no problem in having one of them as the chief,” he said.