The Bharatiya Janata Party’s search for a new president for the Uttar Pradesh unit is likely to be delayed further on account of cross-currents in the state unit and the expected reshuffle in the Union Cabinet. This is now causing unease among the party workers and state-level leaders as the party appears to be losing out in the preparation for the 2017 State Assembly election.
Even though party leaders say that the naming of the new state president is delayed by only a few months, the exercise is clouded by many factors. First, the sudden prominence given to former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh’s visit to Lucknow a few weeks ago suggested that it was meant to test the waters before projecting the present-day Rajasthan Governor as a face of the party in UP – in whichever capacity.
Then came the deliberate comment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 22 January visit to Lucknow at the fag-end of his address, in which he thanked the people of Lucknow for electing Rajnath Singh as their MP, who, Modi added, was doing a great job as the country’s Home Minister. Also noticeable was the prominence given to the Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma during Modi’s programme.
Now, the reports doing the rounds within the party in UP suggest that the new president could well be from a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background, especially in view of the reducing time for 2017 election.
The term of the present state BJP president Lakshmikant Bajpayee, an MLA from Meerut, ended in November 2015 and as per the formality of an election, the party named an election officer – Satya Narayan Jatiya of Madhya Pradesh - to supervise the election of the new president.
“The election of the new president was delayed because of the Panchayat elections in UP but now, since the national president Amit Shah has also taken over, the new president will be named very soon,” said Vijay Bahadur Pathak, the state BJP spokesman.
However, despite the technicalities, the names that have been doing the rounds include those of state general secretary Swatantra Deo Singh, Agra MP and Union minister Ram Shankar Katheria, OBC leader Dharam Pal and Lucknow mayor Dinesh Sharma. However, according to sources within the RSS and the state BJP, even though the final choice will be a consensus name with a nod from both Modi and Shah, a firm RSS background could surely be considered in view of the huge networking required for the election preparations. “It is only someone with a RSS background who can use a network to the party’s advantage, and we cannot rely merely on caste considerations now,” said a RSS functionary in Lucknow.
Incidentally, SP Shahi, a Bhumihar, was the president from 2010 to 2012, followed by the Brahmin Lakshmikant Bajpayee. At present, while a veteran leader from Rajasthan Om Mathur is the in-charge of UP, an Amit Shah confidant Sunil Bansal is a powerful general secretary in the UP BJP.
A report said the expected Union Cabinet reshuffle could delay the announcement of the new state president as some members of the present Cabinet could be named state party presidents, while some office-bearers in states could be accommodated in the Union Cabinet.
This is what is causing anxiety among party workers who feel the time for campaigning throughout this vast state would be too less if the new team in the state took over in March or so. “The state needs a dynamic leader who has to form a new team and then take it together towards 2017,” said KK Pandey, a former secretary of the state BJP.
Interestingly, a recent campaign was also launched some days ago to seek support for giving this responsibility to senior party leader Sanjay Joshi. He has visited Lucknow many times in the one year and each time a large gathering of party workers and leaders greeted him and gathered at the house where he stayed.
Joshi, a former BJP national general secretary with a strong RSS background, does not hold an official position in BJP and has been sidelined since 2012 because of reported differences with Modi. However, Joshi remains popular among a section of party workers and has an excellent rapport with many RSS leaders.
With reports from Delhi suggesting that Amit Shah has taken the initiative of meeting party veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, it is being speculated whether other marginalised party leaders will also be approached in view of the tough challenge in UP. The projection of Kalyan Singh – despite his denial to play a role in UP – and the prominence to Rajnath – again, despite his repeated denial to return to UP – are seen in this context.
With Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party having started poll preparations in right earnest, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj party too has started the exercise of identifying and deploying leaders across the state for election preparation. It is only the BJP which appears over-confident in winning 2017 merely on Modi’s magic.