New Delhi: The BJP has picked Uttar Pradesh’s Panchayati Raj minister Bhupendra Chaudhary as the new chief of its state unit, replacing Swatantra Dev Singh who completed his tenure last month.
Chaudhary, who hails from Moradabad in western UP, is the BJP’s first Jat president in the state. He was chosen in a bid to placate the influential Jat community which has been angry with the party ever since the contentious farm laws, now repealed, were formulated by the BJP-led central government.
“Chaudhary’s selection is aimed to send a message to the Jats who were at the forefront of the farmers’ protest,” a BJP leader told ThePrint.
In this year’s Uttar Pradesh election, the Jats were seen drifting towards the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).
“Although the BJP managed a good result in western UP (which comprises the Jat belt) due to division in Muslim votes, the RLD still won 8 seats and even the SP performed well due to resentment of the Jat community,” the BJP leader said.
Another senior BJP leader told ThePrint that by “picking Chaudhary from western UP, the BJP has tried to balance regional aspirations”.
“There was always a complaint in western UP that leaders from eastern region had prominence in the BJP,” he said, citing the example of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who hails from Gorakhpur in Purvanchal (eastern UP); deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, who is also from Purvanchal; and second deputy CM Brajesh Pathak, who hails from Hardoi in central UP.
Chaudhary is the fourth representative from the community to be given a leadership role by the BJP — the others being Satish Poonia (who was made Rajasthan head in 2019), O. P. Dhankar (who has been leading the Haryana unit since 2020) and Jagdeep Dhankar (who was nominated as the vice-president candidate and successfully contested the poll). Both Rajasthan and Haryana have a large chunk of Jat voters.
A third BJP leader conceded that the focus was to get a good number of seats in western UP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. “Every time, (Union home minister) Amit Shah starts his poll campaign from western UP as the BJP has to maintain its hold on Jat land,” he added. There are 29 Lok Sabha seats in western UP.
Hailing from a farming family in Kanth constituency of Moradabad, Chaudhary has been a low-profile grassroots leader. He was a junior minister in the first Adityanath government of 2017 and was elevated as cabinet minister in 2019.
He did his primary and secondary education in Moradabad, and started his political career as a karsevak in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. In 1989, he joined the BJP and became a member of the district working committee in 1993. From 1996 to 2000, he was district president of Moradabad.
Chaudhary came into prominence after he unsuccessfully contested against SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav from Sambhal in the 1999 Lok Sabha election.
When Lok Sabha MP Ramapati Ram Tripathi was the BJP state president, Chaudhary was chosen as regional mantri of western UP and later became the party’s regional president, a post he held till 2017. He became a member of the Legislative Council in 2016.
Chaudhary is known for his proximity to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who took him under his wings when he himself was the party national president.
Tripathi told ThePrint: “Chaudhary has an untainted political career. He has been a BJP ‘karyakarta’ (worker) who has risen through the ranks — first as district president, then as regional president and then cabinet minister.”
BJP state general secretary Govind Narayan Shukla, too, made similar remarks. “Not only is Chaudhary a grassroots leader, but as the Panchayati Raj minister, he has done a significant work to improve sanitation across the state. He is an organisation man and has been rewarded,” Shukla asserted.
BJP leaders expect Chaudhary to heal the wounds of the Jats alienated during the year-long farmers’ protest of 2020-2021, and to address the party’s communication gap with the community not only in western UP but also in Haryana and Rajasthan.
Union minister Amit Shah had earlier tried to address the Jat resentment ahead of the state election when Chaudhary was given the charge of addressing grievances in western UP and was also made a star campaigner. He was also the BJP’s co-incharge in Haryana and recently ensured the party’s victory in the Rampur bypoll.
Tripathi pointed out that not only is “Chaudhary the first Jat to become the president of UP but is also the first to do so from western UP”.
The second BJP leader said the Jat belt was once a stronghold of Chaudhary Charan Singh (of the Lok Dal, now RLD), but the BJP broke the party’s hold after the Muzaffarnagar riots prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
“The BJP retained its grip in the 2017 UP election, but was dented by the SP-BSP alliance and Jat protests over sugarcane price in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BSP won 10 seats, many from western UP,” he added. “In this year’s UP polls, the BJP suffered defeat in around 20 seats in western UP due to the farmers’ agitation. So, the party now wants to heal Jat wounds.”
Over the decades, the BJP has invested heavily in the Brahmin leadership in UP, appointing state presidents from the community such as Madhav Tripathi, Kalraj Mishra, Ramapati Ram, Laxmikant Bajpai, and Mahendra Nath Pandey. It then focused on leaders from the backward castes such as Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar, Keshav Maurya and Swantantra Dev Singh.
But now, a party leader pointed out, “the party has decided to invest in Jat leadership in many states”. “Sanjeev Balyan is the only leader of the Jat community in western UP and faced their anger during the farmers’ protest,” the leader said.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)