Lucknow: The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati’s decision to appoint Bhim Rajbhar as the party’s state president in Uttar Pradesh is being seen as part of her strategy for the 2022 assembly election.
Rajbhar, who is OBC, replaced Munakad Ali, a Muslim. Mayawati announced the appointment on her official Twitter handle Sunday.
यूपी में अति-पिछड़े वर्ग (ओबीसी) में राजभर समाज के पार्टी व मूवमेन्ट से जुड़े पुराने, कर्मठ एवं अनुशासित सिपाही श्री भीम राजभर, निवासी ज़िला मऊ (आज़मगढ़ मण्डल) को बी.एस.पी. उत्तर प्रदेश स्टेट यूनिट का नया प्रदेश अध्यक्ष नियुक्त किया गया है। इनको हार्दिक बधाई व शुभकामनायें।
— Mayawati (@Mayawati) November 15, 2020
The BSP supremo reportedly replaced Ali after the party drew a blank in the seven bypolls held in the state on 3 November. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won six while the Samajwadi Party (SP) won one — Malhani.
The 51-year-old is an old Mayawati loyalist who has been associated with the BSP for 35 years. He had been given charge of party affairs for the recently held Bihar assembly election in which the BSP was part of the Grand Democratic Secular Front, along with the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP).
The BSP managed to win one seat.
Before being appointed as BSP state president, Bhim Rajbhar had been working as the zonal coordinator of Azamgarh division.
A resident of Babupur Sahupura village in Kopaganj area of Mau district, Bhim told ThePrint that he enrolled for the party’s membership in 1985. He was still in school at the time. His father, Rambali Rajbhar, used to work as a security inspector in the coal mines of Chhattisgarh.
Bhim Rajbhar is the fourth person to assume the mantle of BSP state unit president since the 2017 assembly elections — Munakad Ali, R.S. Kushwaha and Ram Achal Rajbhar are his predecessors.
The OBC Rajbhar vote
Sources in the BSP told ThePrint that Mayawati is targeting the OBC vote for the 2022 assembly election. While the party drew a blank in the seven bypolls, it managed to retain a vote-share of 19 per cent, suggesting its core voters — Dalits — haven’t deserted it yet.
Dalits constitute about 20.7 per cent of UP’s population.
A BSP source said that with Bhim’s appointment, Mayawati is looking to strengthen the party’s position in about 50 seats of Purvanchal (eastern UP).
So far, western UP has been considered a BSP stronghold.
According to Kaviraj, professor of Political Science in Lucknow University, the Rajbhars play a decisive role in the electoral outcome of these 49 seats in Purvanchal.
“Even though Rajbahars account for only three per cent of voters in the state, they have a sizable presence in eastern UP,” Kaviraj said. “There are large numbers of Rajbhar voters in five seats of Varanasi district, 10 of Azamgarh, four of Mau, seven of Ballia, seven of Ghazipur, nine of Jaunpur and seven seats of Deoria.”
“They have an average of 25,000-30,000 voters in each of these assembly segments. In certain constituencies, Rajbhars have a presence of 10 to 15 per cent,” Kaviraj added.
“In Purvanchal, the difference between victory and defeat in several seats is often less than 20,000 votes. Under these circumstances, the role of Rajbhar voters becomes quite important. By appointing Bhim Rajbhar as the state president, Mayawati has tried to strengthen her claim for about 50 seats,” he said.
A senior BSP leader said another reason for Mayawati backing Bhim Rajbhar is the Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav’s efforts to make a dent in BSP’s Dalit vote-bank by luring many Dalit leaders away from the party.
“Similarly, Mayawati is now going to focus more on OBCs and Brahmins,” the BSP leader said. “In the coming days, several other OBC leaders might also be appointed on some other key posts. In order to balance the electoral equations, the party can strengthen the hands of Brahmin and OBC leaders before the elections. A strategy is being drafted for this.”
Rising through the ranks
Bhim Rajbhar has been with the BSP since 1985. In 1990, he was made the BSP’s booth-level president at Indra sector of Mau district.
“After his father’s retirement from service, Bhim moved back to his ancestral home in Mau in 1990,” a local BSP leader in the district told ThePrint.
“Soon after, he was appointed by the party as a booth president. He was entrusted with the responsibility of Mau district president in 2001 at the age of just 31 years.”
During the 2012 assembly election, Bhim got the party ticket for the Sadar seat in Mau but lost in a close contest with the Qaumi Ekta Dal candidate and local muscleman-leader Mukhtar Ansari.
The party, however, continued to have faith in him. A few months later, he was appointed as the divisional in-charge of Azamgarh division.
In 2017, he was appointed as the state coordinator of Chhattisgarh. A year later in 2018, he was made the party’s incharge for Bihar, and oversaw its poll affairs in the 2020 assembly election.