NEW DELHI: Though assembly elections in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh are a few months away, the ruling BJP has begun preparations for the electoral battle since its outcome will have a direct bearing on the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
As part of the BJP’s plan to set the roadmap for the upcoming assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given a lion’s share to Uttar Pradesh in the Union Cabinet expansion on Wednesday.
After hours of careful deliberations with the party’s senior leaders, PM Modi inducted seven ministers from the state into his cabinet – six of them are from the OBC and other backward castes. Their induction into the Union Cabinet clearly indicates the saffron party’s priorities and the significance it attaches to the upcoming UP assembly elections.
It may also be noted that in the previous Modi cabinet, there were 15 ministers from UP. But after Wednesday’s cabinet expansion, the total number of ministers from Uttar Pradesh has risen to 16. This is the highest ever representation of UP in the union cabinet.
In order to maintain the regional balance in the politically crucial state where the caste factor plays a major role in determining the outcome of polls, the party has chosen two ministers from the eastern part, two from the western and one from the Bundelkhand region.
Among the newly appointed UP ministers, Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal and Pankaj Chaudhary is from the dominant Kurmi (Patel) caste, while BL Varma is from the Lodh community and SP Singh Baghel is an OBC (Gadaria) but claims to be a scheduled caste. His case on this issue is sub judice.
Bhanu Pratap Verma is a Dalit and Kaushal Kishore belongs to the Pasi community. Interestingly, the lone upper-caste minister from UP this time is Ajay Mishra, a Brahmin.
The selection further points to the fact that the saffron leadership has carefully chosen non-Yadav OBCs which implies that BJP wants to make a big dent in the traditional OBC and backward vote bank of Samajwadi Party and Mayawati-led BSP.
The induction of Anupriya Patel in the Modi Cabinet points to the BJP’s outreach to the Kurmis - a caste most dominant after Yadavs in UP. It should not be forgotten that BJP's impressive victory in the central and Avadh regions of UP was mainly due to the support of the 'Kurmis'. Similarly, the induction of Mohanlalganj MP Kaushal Kishore is also indicative of the party’s efforts to reach out to the 'Dalits' as well.
The Union Cabinet expansion also makes it abundantly clear that the BJP has its eyes set on the OBCs and Dalits, who constitute the largest chunk of voters in Uttar Pradesh. There is a thinking in the BJP that the party need not worry about the upper castes since it has a Chief Minister who belongs to the Thakur community and a Deputy Chief Minister who is a Brahmin.
Clearly, in line with PM Modi’s motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,’ the party has sent a clear signal that it seeks the participation of poor sections of society in corridors of power. The BJP’s strategists know that support from OBCs and Dalits, which played a major role in the party’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections, will be crucial in the upcoming 2022 polls and the subsequent general elections in 2024 too.
Keeping this in mind the party has given proper representation to these communities in the state as well as the union cabinet. Besides Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum number of MPs to Lok Sabha, assembly elections are due early next year in Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand and later in the year in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Except for Punjab, BJP is in power in all these states. But the outcome of elections in UP and the party’s performance will hold the key for BJP seizing the power in the state in 2022 and then in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Among other things, the cabinet reshuffle has also triggered speculations about the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle in Uttara Pradesh. According to party sources, the removal of senior ministers at the Centre on grounds of non-performance has made it easier for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to take similar action in Uttar Pradesh.
The Chief Minister, for some months now, has been wanting to divest some senior ministers of their portfolios. However, apparently under pressure from the party high command, he was not allowed to do so. However, the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown the door to veterans like Ravi Shanker Prasad, Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank, Prakash Javdekar and Harshvardhan, will now make it easier for Yogi Adityanath to crack the whip.
Moreover, since the majority of the seven new ministers inducted in the union cabinet are from OBC and Dalit castes, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath can easily replace some ministers from these caste groups in the state. According to sources close to him, the chief minister would prefer to induct some new faces who have a jest for performance and can further improve the image of the government.
Insiders feel that CM Yogi Adityanath is the only one working in the government. He would certainly prefer some more `working hands` who can add vibrancy to the government and that can be done through a major shake-up of the state government.
The cabinet reshuffle in Uttar Pradesh is awaited since January and the induction of former bureaucrat-turned-politician, Arvind Kumar Sharma, in the council of ministers has also been long overdue. With former Congress leader Jitin Prasada also joining the BJP, he has also emerged as a strong contender for a ministerial post in the state.
However, it all remains to be seen whether PM Modi's masterstroke of inducting 7 ministers from the OBC and backward communities pays rich dividends to the party in the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.