The past few days have been action-packed for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh. With the assembly election less than a month away, the BJP has swung into desperate damage control in the wake of a series of resignations, including those from three top ministers in the Yogi Adityanath Cabinet.
All the resignees have accused the BJP of neglecting Dalits, the backward class, farmers and the unemployed youth.
The BJP now has to manoeuvre negative PR, overcome damage caused by the farmers’ protest, and also tackle on-ground concerns of the election largely being a battle between dominant and backward castes.
The episode may well be a déjà vu of sorts for the BJP as Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav seems to be playing the predatory BJP game: importing leaders just ahead of election to strengthen the party.
The events over the past few days seem to almost follow a movie script: nearly identical resignation letters written by MLAs surfacing on social media in a span of a few hours, followed by a welcome tweet from Akhilesh Yadav with a picture of the minister/MLA with hashtag ‘melahobe’ sounding the war cry. Ironically, these events occurred on a day when the BJP central leadership was busy discussing the strategy for the assembly election and zeroing in on its candidates.
दलितों, पिछड़ों, किसानों, बेरोजगार नौजवानों एवं छोटे-लघु एवं मध्यम श्रेणी के व्यापारियों की घोर उपेक्षात्मक रवैये के कारण उत्तर प्रदेश के योगी मंत्रिमंडल से इस्तीफा देता हूं। pic.twitter.com/ubw4oKMK7t
— Swami Prasad Maurya (@SwamiPMaurya) January 11, 2022
‘सामाजिक न्याय’ के एक और योद्धा डॉ. धर्म सिंह सैनी जी के आने से, सबका मेल-मिलाप-मिलन करानेवाली हमारी ‘सकारात्मक और प्रगतिशील राजनीति’ को और भी उत्साह व बल मिला है। सपा में उनका ससम्मान हार्दिक स्वागत एवं अभिनंदन!
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) January 13, 2022
With resignations tendered online, BJP efforts to reach out to its leaders have also taken place on social media. Deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has been given the charge to urge leaders to reconsider their decision. All this makes Uttar Pradesh’s BJP unit ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
A flurry of resignations
In a span of 72 hours, between 11 and 13 January, ten BJP legislators in Uttar Pradesh — including three ministers in the Adityanath Cabinet — and two MLAs of ally Apna Dal quit the party.
One common thread linked them: They were all political turncoats — nine from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and one from the Congress. The move has led many in the BJP to question whether the party’s ‘import’ policy is working anymore. Case in point, the 2021 West Bengal assembly election saw several BJP leaders making a beeline to return to the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The UP 2022 exodus began with the exit of influential OBC leader and minister Swami Prasad Maurya, followed by three MLAs close to him on the same day — Bhagwati Sagar, Roshan Lal Verma, and Brijesh Prajapati. Soon after, state minister Dara Singh Chauhan and MLA Awtar Singh Bhadana followed suit. On Thursday, another UP minister Dharam Singh Saini and three BJP MLAs — Vinay Shakya, Mukesh Verma and Bala Awasthi — also left the party.
The series of resignations have put the spotlight on both the functioning of the Adityanath government and his leadership. Those deserting the BJP have not only termed the party as anti-backward but also questioned the way in which the Adityanath government has ignored leaders like them.
BJP leadership in a tizzy
Commenting on the larger fallout of these events, a senior BJP leader warned that if the issue was not resolved soon, the resignations could potentially create a perception that the BJP has only ‘dominant caste’ interests in mind. This in turn could change the way the election is fought.
The BJP had won 303 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly in the 2017 election.
These leaders who have quit are said to enjoy clout among their non-Yadav OBC castes. This is significant as many credit the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2017 election to the support it garnered from non-Yadav OBCs. With three OBC ministers joining the Samajwadi Party and O.P. Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) already aligned with the party, the BJP needs to rethink its strategy. So far, the Uttar Pradesh BJP was claiming to win 325 seats in the 2022 assembly election.
The BJP has delicate ground to tread, with members claiming that the issue of farmers’ protest has severely affected Western Uttar Pradesh. Though the Narendra Modi government repealed the three farm laws after a year-long protest, the farmers are yet to warm up to the party again, leaders said.
Many in the BJP say there is still time to devise a counter strategy, which includes getting leaders from the Samajwadi Party to join (some have already joined). “Those who left were Maurya’s people so they had to go anyway. Some of them would also not have got a ticket. This is nothing but political opportunism and the public realises that. BJP will emerge victorious,” said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named.
“These leaders who have quit had got a hint that they were going to be dropped in these elections. At the same time many were asking for tickets for their children and relatives, which doesn’t work in the BJP. They have accused the party of ignoring the Dalits, OBC and the youth. Why were they waiting till now to speak up? This is nothing but political opportunism,” said R.P. Singh, BJP national spokesperson.
Amid all the resignations, there was momentary relief in the party when Naresh Saini, Congress MLA from Behat in Saharanpur, and Hariom Yadav, Samajwadi Party MLA from Sirsaganj in Firozabad, along with former Samajwadi Party MLA Dharampal Yadav, joined the BJP in New Delhi. The party has also started damage control where senior leaders have been tasked with contacting the rebels and listening to their grievances.
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