Denting Nitish’s ‘Luv-Kush’ vote, synergy with Raje, OBC push — why BJP has new chiefs in 4 states

Denting Nitish’s ‘Luv-Kush’ vote, synergy with Raje, OBC push — why BJP has new chiefs in 4 states

BJP has replaced four state presidents to court Nitish Kumar’s voter base in Bihar, prevent infighting in Rajasthan, renew its organisational structure in Odisha & lead charge against AAP in Delhi.

(L-R) BJP leaders Samrat Choudhary, CP Joshi, Virendraa Sachdeva, Manmohan Samal

(L-R) BJP leaders Samrat Choudhary, CP Joshi, Virendraa Sachdeva, Manmohan Samal

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Thursday appointed new state presidents in Bihar, Rajasthan, Delhi and Odisha. All appointments were necessitated by the completion of the terms of outgoing state presidents.

In Bihar, the party has appointed MLC Samrat Choudhary — a Kushwaha leader who is also leader of the opposition in the Bihar Legislative Council — as its state chief, replacing Sanjay Jaiswal, whose three-year term ended last October. Choudhary’s elevation, given his aggressive brand of politics, is being viewed by party insiders as part of the BJP’s strategy to dent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s voter base ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

In Rajasthan, Chittorgarh Lok Sabha MP C. P. Joshi replaces Satish Poonia, who was said to be at loggerheads with the Vasundhara Raje camp of the state BJP. According to sources in the state BJP, the party is hoping that Joshi’s appointment will ensure better coordination and prevent confrontation within the party’s Rajasthan unit.

In Delhi, Virendraa Sachdeva takes over the reins of the state BJP from Adesh Gupta who was appointed to the post in June 2020. Sachdeva was appointed interim president of the Delhi BJP to lead the charge against the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) following Gupta’s resignation last December.

Similarly, in Odisha, the party has appointed former state minister Manmohan Samal as its state president to replace Samir Mohanty in a bid to give a fresh thrust to its prospects. Mohanty, who replaced Basanta Kumar Panda in 2020 and served as Odisha BJP chief for three years, led the party to victory in the Dhamnagar assembly bypoll last November but could not manage the same result in the Padampur bypoll in December.

Samal, Mohanty’s replacement, is a leader from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) who comes from coastal Odisha where the BJP’s presence is limited. He is seen by many in the party as a consensus builder owing to his term as a minister in the BJD-BJP government in 2004. He has also served as state BJP chief twice in the past, in 1998 and then again in 2000.

BJP national general secretary Sunil Bansal, who was appointed the party’s Odisha prabhari (in-charge) last August, has publicly expressed his desire to set up a more robust party organisation in Odisha.

Also Read: BJP is planning its roadmap for 2024, even 2029. The opposition is still stuck in 2018

Courting ‘Luv-Kush’ vote bank in Bihar

Samrat Choudhary parted ways with the RJD in 2014 to join the JD(U). He was made a minister in the Jitan Ram Manjhi government (2014-15) and then again in the Nitish-led JD(U)-BJP government in 2020.

Choudhary’s appointment as Bihar BJP chief is being viewed as an attempt by the party to shore up its support among OBC voters, particularly the Kurmi and Kushwaha (Koeri) communities — collectively referred to as the ‘Luv-Kush’ vote. The two communities have been the backbone of CM Nitish Kumar’s voter base ever since the Janata Dal-United (JDU) chief challenged Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Muslim-Yadav (MY) caste arithmetic in the 1990s. 

In addition to the ‘Luv-Kush’ vote, Nitish also draws his core electoral strength from the EBCs (extremely backward castes), as well as Mahadalits. Combined, the Kurmis and Kushwahas make up 12 per cent of the state’s population, compared to the Yadavs who account for 7 per cent. Kushwahas are the largest bloc among OBCs in Bihar after Yadavs.

While Lalu and his son Tejashwi, currently deputy CM of Bihar, are undisputed leaders of the state’s Yadavs, and Nitish himself the tallest leader of the Kurmis, the Kushwahas do not have a leader with a statewide presence. The only leader from the Kushwaha community who came close was the new state BJP president’s father, Shakuni Chaudhary, who retired from active politics in 2015 and was a founding member of the Samata Party.

Others from the community who rose to prominence included former Union minister Nagmani and former Bihar minister Tulsidas Mehta, besides Upendra Kushwaha who parted ways with the JD(U) for a third time in February this year and floated a new party. For Nitish, keeping the Kurmi-Koeri alliance intact would have been a key reason to keep Kushwaha close.

With the ‘Luv-Kush’ vote bank now divided, the BJP, sources in the party’s Bihar unit said, is attempting to shore up its prospects among Koeris by appointing Choudhary as its state chief. To that effect, the party could also enter into an alliance with Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the 2025 assembly polls to take advantage of Nitish’s declining caste arithmetic, sources added.

On Choudhary’s appointment as Bihar BJP chief, a senior MLA of the party from Bihar told ThePrint, “Sanjay Jaiswal ji was expecting to be replaced since his term was over but the move was long due as the party was reflecting on its strategy to consolidate its social base among EBCs and OBCs, particularly Kushwahas and Dhanuks (Kurmis) who make up Nitish’s core support base. His popularity is declining and the party aims to woo caste groups loyal to him.”

The legislator added that the BJP elevated Samrat Choudhary as its leader in the legislative council and Vijay Sinha as its leader in the Bihar assembly as part of a strategy to strike a balance between its ‘lower-caste’ and ‘upper-caste’ voters. 

“The party may now appoint a leader from among the EBCs as its leader in the legislative council. The BJP’s win in the Kurhani bypoll (last December) was a signal since the JD(U) candidate in that seat was a Kushwaha but the BJP won the bypoll. The BJP’s emphasis on celebrating the legacy of the Mauryan king Ashoka is also part of its narrative to reel more and more Kushwaha voters into its fold,” said the MLA.

Seventh Brahmin as Rajasthan BJP chief

In Rajasthan, where infighting within the BJP had become the new normal over the last three years under Satish Poonia’s leadership, party sources said replacing him is a signal to former chief minister Vasundhara Raje that the party expects its state unit to function in a more coordinated manner. Leaders from the Vasundhara camp had been demanding Poonia’s removal ahead of assembly elections to be held in the state later this year.

Poonia’s replacement, C.P. Joshi, was first elected to the Lok Sabha from Chittorgarh in 2014 and retained his seat in the 2019 general election. Within the party, he rose through the ranks from being associated with RSS affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to being appointed state president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) — the youth wing of the BJP — and then a vice president of the state BJP.

Joshi is the seventh Brahmin to be appointed Rajasthan BJP chief after Hari Shankar Bhabhra, Bhanwarlal Sharma, Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, Mahesh Chandra Sharma, Raghuvir  Kaushal and Arun Chaturvedi.

On Sunday, Joshi took part in a Brahmin Mahapanchayat in Jaipur where he was seen sharing a stage with Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, a Jodhpur-born Brahmin. This is also the turf of Vaishnaw’s cabinet colleague Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

The Brahmin community makes up 7.5 per cent of Rajasthan’s population and has given the state multiple chief ministers including Heera Lal Shastri, Jai Narayan Vyas and Tika Ram Paliwal and Hari Dev Joshi.

Commenting on Joshi’s appointment as state BJP chief, a BJP MP from Rajasthan told ThePrint, “It shows that the party is looking after the Brahmins. Ghanshyam Tiwari is another Brahmin face the party has in the state. The party is yet to appoint a Leader of the Opposition after Gulab Chand Kataria was made governor (of Assam).”

Tiwari (75), the BJP’s most prominent Brahmin face in Rajasthan, is a six-term MLA but Joshi’s elevation suggests that the party is now looking to promote a second Brahmin leader.

A senior central BJP leader told ThePrint, “It was necessary to replace the Rajasthan unit president. Satish Poonia worked well but there was no synergy between leaders of the party’s state unit. Bringing a young face (Joshi) will work for all senior party leaders as it will allow them to work unitedly and ensure the party’s victory in the assembly elections.”

Though Poonia had in the past expressed his desire to continue as Rajasthan BJP chief, sources in the party’s state unit said his proposal was turned down to prevent more resistance from the Raje camp.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: BJP, from standpoint of US national interests, is most important foreign political party: Walter Russell Mead in WSJ