New Delhi/Lucknow: With Swatantra Dev Singh completing his three-year tenure as the Uttar Pradesh BJP chief, the party is faced with the onerous task of balancing the complex caste equations in India’s most politically important state to choose his successor.
The choice is important given that whoever succeeds Singh will lead the party in Uttar Pradesh in 2024.
Singh, the fifth state BJP chief to complete his three-year tenure, is also an influential Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader who holds a place in the Yogi Adityanath Cabinet. He is the Leader of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council as well.
Singh has been a minister for the past four months — since the Yogi government was sworn in for its second term — despite the BJP’s principle of ‘one-member-one-post’.
He completed his term as UP BJP chief Saturday.
“There are two reasons for the delay (in selection of the new BJP chief). The party is mulling the option that the polling to choose the new state chief can take place along with that for the new national party president as the organisational elections are due soon,” a central BJP leader said. “BJP chief J.P. Nadda’s three-year term will be over this year-end.”
“The main reason is that the party is weighing its options, of going with either a Brahmin or an OBC face, for which consultation has not been completed with UP leaders, including CM Yogi Adityanath,” the leader added. “The Brahmin lobby is putting pressure (on the organisation) to make a Brahmin the party president.”
Another senior party leader said feedback was taken informally a few months ago from UP leaders, but a decision not made. The dilemma, the leader added, is also about “balancing caste equations”.
“Since Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak is a Brahmin and the CM is also from the upper caste (Thakur), it is not necessary to appoint another Brahmin even though the community can’t be ignored,” said the BJP functionary.
“There have been murmurs in the party that it is investing too much on Dalits and OBCs. Chances of a Brahmin face cannot be ruled out. But, in the first meeting (with state leaders), the message was to look for someone other than a Brahmin.”
Another central BJP leader said if the party were to choose a Brahmin face, it would have made the announcement earlier.
“The party is looking beyond Brahmin faces and is considering choosing between OBCs and Dalits. Since Singh is a Kurmi, it will be wise to replace him with an OBC candidate. Also, the Dalits supported us solidly in the state election and a leader from the community can be an option. But OBCs suit caste dynamics… The talks are not over,” the leader added.
With a week having passed since Singh completed his tenure, BJP insiders say the process to choose the next party chief for UP has been on the backburner, with both state and central units busy with a series of events in recent times — MLC election, Lok Sabha bypoll, presidential election, canvassing for the vice-presidential poll, and the ongoing session in Parliament.
“There is no such urgency as the government and the party organisation are working under the leadership of Yogi ji and Swantra Dev Singh ji. The party was busy with the bypoll earlier,” BJP national general secretary Dushyant Gautam told ThePrint. “The process will start now. The party is aware that a new president has to be appointed.”
Names in the race
A fourth BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named said that, apart from the caste factor, the party has to keep in mind several considerations in mind, such as region, grip on organisational matters, and potential efficiency to run the party in a state this large.
“Both state elections of 2017 and 2022 happened under the leadership of OBC presidents. Maurya’s retention as the deputy CM despite losing the election is a clear message that the party will not risk losing the OBC vote,” the leader added. “Likewise, Singh was made the BJP state chief after Mahendra Nath Pandey was elevated to the Union Cabinet. He has performed well given that he is a leader with excellent organisational skills. The party doesn’t want to lose grip on OBC voters.”
Union ministers B.L. Verma and Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma (OBCs), and Kaushambi MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar, MLC Laxman Acharya, and Etawah MP Ram Shankar Katheria (Dalits) are being touted as the contenders for the BJP state chief post.
The OBCs comprise 40 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population.
While about 58 per cent of non-Yadav OBCs are believed to have voted for the BJP in 2017, the share is estimated to have gone up to around 65 per cent in 2022.
This, despite influential OBC leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chouhan and Dharam Singh Saini switching allegiance to the Samajwadi Party ahead of the UP polls.
‘Lobbying for Brahmin face on’
The second BJP leader quoted above said those pitching for a Brahmin candidate were pointing out that the party fought the Lok Sabha elections in the state under the leadership of Keshari Nath Tripathi and Ramapati Ram Tripathi in 2004 and 2009. The latter currently represents Deoria in the Lok Sabha.
Among other prominent leaders from the Brahmin community are former BJP state chief Laxmikant Bajpai, who is now a Rajya Sabha MP. When Mahendra Nath Pandey was inducted in the Union Cabinet in 2014, it was seen as a subtle message to the Brahmins — who comprise 10 per cent of the state population — that they can repose faith in the BJP.
In December, the BJP formed a four-member panel to woo the community ahead of the assembly elections amid talks that the Brahmins were disgruntled in the state.
BJP state general secretary Subrata Pathak told ThePrint that it was the central leadership’s prerogative to choose the leader for Uttar Pradesh unit.
“The senior leadership will consider various factors… They (central leaders) have to think for 2024 since the new president’s first assignment will be to maintain the BJP’s lead in the Lok Sabha,” he said. “Only the Prime Minister and the home minister know when to appoint the BJP president in Uttar Pradesh.”
(Edited by Tony Rai)