New Delhi: Gearing up to consolidate non-Yadav OBC and Dalit votes in the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, which is less than a month away, the BJP has released a star campaigners’ list heavily featuring prominent faces from backward communities.
The move comes days after it was jolted by the exit of Other Backward Class (OBC) leaders Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan, who had cited “neglect towards Dalits and backwards” among their reasons to quit, and jumped ship to the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Apart from well-known faces like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the list of 30 star campaigners includes a host of Dalit and OBC leaders with Sainis, Gurjars, Lodhs and Nishads on the top.
The first phase of voting in the seven-phase state assembly elections — to be held on 10 February (58 seats) — will mainly cover western UP, which includes districts like Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra.
These areas have large populations of Dalits (Jatavs, Pals), OBCs (Jats, Gurjars, Lodhs, Nishads, Mallahs, Kashyaps) and Muslim voters.
According to a Dainik Bhaskar report, the Iglas assembly constituency in Aligarh is Jat-dominated, and has 1 lakh members of the community. But Baghels form a sizeable chunk (close to 30,000) and so do Dalits (around 50,000), which means these communities can tilt the election in anyone’s favour.
Meanwhile, in Shamli, besides 70,000 Jats, there are 65,000 Muslims as well as around 20,000 Gurjars, 25,000 Kashyaps and around 45,000 Dalits. Hence, the BJP has deployed Kashyap, Gurjar, Saini and Jatav leaders as star campaigners for cross consolidation in these areas.
Any reduction in Jat votes will be compensated by these communities, party sources said.
UP BJP vice-president Daya Shankar told ThePrint that “most of the OBC leaders have been included in the star campaigners list because most of the districts have sizeable presence of OBCs and Dalits”.
“Besides prominent faces, people also associate with their caste leader. We have inducted many OBC leaders into the party and cabinet. It shows our commitment to social justice,” he said.
Jats, Gurjars feature prominently
Among the star campaigners are Dharmendra Pradhan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Sanjeev Balyan, Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd), S.P. Baghel and Niranjan Jyoti from the Narendra Modi government.
While Pradhan is a prominent OBC figure and the party in-charge for UP elections, Naqvi, being a former MP from Rampur, has been included for campaigning in the Muslim-dominated constituency.
Being a prominent Jat leader from western UP, Balyan is crucial as star campaigner, while V.K. Singh is the MP for Ghaziabad, where elections will be held in the first phase. Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary, who hails from Moradabad and is a minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet, is another Jat leader who is on the list besides Balyan.
Also on the list are UP BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh, an OBC leader belonging to the influential Kurmi caste, and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, a prominent Maurya community leader (OBC). Jaswant Saini, who was appointed chairman of the Uttar Pradesh State Commission for Backward Classes in June 2021, is a prominent Saini leader from Saharanpur.
Ashok Kataria, a minister in the Adityanath government, has been included for Gurjar outreach in western UP. Kataria, who was earlier BJP general secretary, has influence in Moradabad, Bareilly and Meerut areas where there is a sizeable Gurjar presence, said party sources. Another Gurjar leader who has found place in the list is Surendra Singh Nagar, the Rajya Sabha MP who jumped ship to BJP from SP in 2020.
In September last year, there was a controversy in Gautam Buddh Nagar’s Dadri where a statue of a 9th-century king, Mihir Bhoj, was unveiled by Chief Minister Adityanath.
There was a tussle between Rajputs and Gurjars over the king and unidentified people applied black ink on the term ‘Gurjar’ on the statue’s plaque. Nagar had then arrived at the spot and removed the ink. Later, unknown people had again put black ink on the names of the CM, Nagar and the local MLA on the plaque. The BJP had raised the issue in Gurjar-dominated parts of UP.
Union minister B.L. Verma is another prominent OBC face, who belongs to the Lodh community, on the list. Lodhs are mainly an agricultural community. Verma was also an associate of the late former chief minister and Lodh leader Kalyan Singh.
Among prominent Dalit faces in the list is Minister of State and Agra MP Satya Pal Singh Baghel, who is from the Pal (Scheduled Caste) community.
Bulandshahr MP Bhola Singh Khatik is another SC leader among the star campaigners.
Rajya Sabha MP Kanta Kardam, a woman leader from the Jatav community (SC), and Niranjan Jyoti, a prominent OBC face from the Nishad (fisherman) community, are also star campaigners. So is Dharmendra Kashyap, MP from Aonla, who is from the Mallah community (OBC), which has a sizeable presence in every district of the Terai belt of western UP.
Jaswant Saini, who is chief of the UP’s Commission for Backward Classes, told ThePrint that earlier, political parties ignored small OBC castes like Saini, Kewats and Mallahs, but the BJP has given them positions and a share in power.
“During the Akhilesh regime, only Yadavs and Muslims got a share in power. We are doing justice to other castes and that is the reason these castes campaigned for BJP in 2017 and 2019. We will get support from most OBC castes despite the desertion of Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan.”
The Uttar Pradesh polls will be held in seven phases — on 10, 14, 20, 23 and 27 February, and 3 and 7 March. The results will be declared 10 March.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)