New Delhi: Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are just about nine months away, and the chaotic Covid-19 situation and allegations that the Yogi Adityanath-led administration mismanaged its handling have become a concern for the BJP high command in Delhi.
Retaining power in UP in 2022 is crucial for the BJP, and a good performance is considered one of the keys to Narendra Modi remaining prime minister in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections too. UP is India’s most crucial state in the Lok Sabha elections, given that its number of MPs — 80 — is almost twice that of the next state on the list, Maharashtra (48).
This is why Modi, this Sunday, called a meeting to review the working of the Yogi Adityanath-led state government, and the impact of the second Covid wave on the party’s image. Other top leaders present at the meeting were Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief J.P. Nadda, the party’s UP organisation secretary Sunil Bansal and RSS’ sah-sarkaryavah (general secretary) Dattatreya Hosabale. Neither CM Adityanath nor state BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh attended this meeting.
BJP sources told ThePrint that the involvement of the PM and Hosabale to review the party organisation and administrative situation in UP shows the deep concern of the high command about public perception. “This was not an election preparation meeting, but a way to undo the damage,” one source said.
“You will see a few changes in governance. It could be that Yogi is no longer given as much of a free hand. More effective administration is needed, and effective ministers will be given more responsibilities,” the source said.
Yogi’s handling of the second wave
The BJP’s own MPs, MLAs and ministers have questioned the Yogi Adityanath administration’s handling of the pandemic. On 12 April, UP’s law minister Brajesh Pathak had flagged the issue that the Chief Medical Officer in Lucknow didn’t take calls, and people were not getting beds in hospitals; ambulances were taking 6-7 hours to reach and labs were giving Covid test reports in 4-5 days.
Leaders like Mohanlalganj MP Kaushal Kishore (who lost his brother to Covid), Basti MP Harish Dwivedi, Kanpur MP Satyadev Pachauri, Meerut MP Rajendra Agrawal, Aurai MLA Dinanath Bhaskar, and even Union minister and Bareilly MP Santosh Gangwar wrote letters pointing out the failure of the administration to arrange beds, oxygen supply and ambulances. Jasrana MLA Pappu Lodhi even posted a video of his wife lying on the ground for a few hours, waiting for a bed.
Complaints by BJP leaders triggered the high command’s concerns, and many UP leaders briefed Nadda, Shah and even PM Modi.
Thereafter, CM Yogi started personally visiting districts to review the ground situation. It was no coincidence that when Yogi visited Noida last week to check the preparedness of the district infrastructure, he called a few Delhi-based journalists to try and resurrect his image in the eyes of the high command, sources said.
Now, Yogi has instructed that there be command centres in every district, like the one established in Varanasi by PM Modi’s handpicked former IAS officer A.K. Sharma. District magistrates have been asked to call beneficiaries directly from the command centre to confirm if they have received ration and Covid kits, and reports have to be sent to the principal secretary to the CM every day.
Rajendra Agrawal, who had written a letter to the CM on 28 April at the peak of the second wave about acute shortage of oxygen in Meerut, told ThePrint: “Now, the situation has improved a lot in towns, but we have to be careful in villages as cases have still not gone down.”
Rajkumar Chahar, the Fatehpur Sikri MP, added: “Distress calls have come down, but there is a lot of misinformation about vaccination, so we have started various campaigns. We are also giving information about beds, oxygen and any other thing necessary at this time.”
Dent in PM’s image
A BJP leader explained to ThePrint that the high command is not only concerned about the Yogi government’s “mismanagement” of the Covid pandemic, but even more so about the severe dent in PM Modi’s image that UP has contributed to.
“Hundreds of bodies floating down the Ganga in Unnao, Kanpur etc. became the defining moment of ill-preparedness, and given the PM’s bond with the holy river and with Varanasi being his constituency, this is the first time people are pointing fingers at the PM’s effort and sincerity,” the leader said.
The leader added that when one person (A.K. Sharma) can control the situation in Varanasi “perfectly” and seek corporate help in managing it, why were the jumbo ministries and officials absent when people in the districts were crying out for help?
“It’s not about if you were caught sleeping, but about how you react to the unfolding situation,” he said.
Another leader said that after the party’s defeat in West Bengal, UP is the most crucial state for the BJP to keep in its kitty with an eye on 2024.
“It is clear we won’t get more than the 18 seats we won in Bengal in 2019, after Mamata’s victory in the assembly elections. So, any misadventure in UP will be suicidal. We can’t afford that. Several course-corrections were discussed in the meeting,” this leader said.
A UP BJP vice-president who did not wish to be named also said that though the Yogi government’s performance in the second wave of Covid-19 is the most important thing in the high command’s mind, last month’s panchayat polls results, in which the BJP-backed candidates won less posts than Samajwadi Party-backed candidates, even in strongholds like Varanasi, Ayodhya and Prayagraj, was also a matter of concern.
Another MP from eastern UP who didn’t wish to be named said that now public perception has gone against Yogi, and people who have lost family members will not vote for the BJP. “There is an urgent need to intervene and do course-correction,” this MP said.
A central BJP leader added that the Centre’s concern is also the ‘third wave’ of the pandemic that is expected to strike later this year. “Nobody knows the exact time it will come, but health agencies have cautioned about the third wave impacting children, and if it arrives near the elections and if we are caught unawares like in the second wave, it will be suicidal for the BJP in UP,” this leader said.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)