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Why BJP minister & OBC leader Maurya’s switch to SP could have an impact on UP polls

Three more BJP MLAs resigned hours after Swami Prasad Maurya, an influential leader who is expected to make a major impact in boosting the SP’s standing among non-Yadav OBCs.

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New Delhi: In a major jolt to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), senior leader and minister Swami Prasad Maurya resigned from the Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh Tuesday and joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) ahead of the crucial state assembly elections. The move is expected to improve the SP’s standing among non-Yadav OBCs.

Maurya’s resignation has had an immediate impact. Hours later, three more BJP MLAs — Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati and Bhagwati Sagar — tendered their resignations.

According to an SP leader, the entry of Maurya — an influential OBC leader — will strengthen the party and help it shed the image of being a party of Yadavs. The move, the leader said, will help garner the support of other crucial OBC castes, especially the Maurya, Kushwaha, Saini and Shakya. 

In his resignation, Maurya has blamed the BJP government for a “grossly neglectful attitude towards Dalits, backward classes, farmers, unemployed youth and small and medium businesspersons”.

While Maurya was welcomed into the SP by party president Akhilesh Yadav, he is yet to formally announce his membership of the party.

Maurya was minister of labour, employment, coordination in the Yogi government, and formerly held key ministerial positions as a leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) under former CM Mayawati. He served as leader of the opposition in the state assembly from 2012 to 2016. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Harish Srivastava termed Maurya’s move “opportunistic politics” as he had been serving as a senior cabinet minister for five years.

“The reasons that he has cited in his resignation are completely untrue as the Modi and Yogi governments’ focus is the welfare of the poor and the backward classes. Whether it’s about rations, providing them education, or healthcare, our politics is aimed at making their lives better. He must have his own ambitions for resigning like this,” said Srivastava.

Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister and BJP spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh tweeted, “The BJP is the only party in the country that works for the welfare of Dalits, the poor and farmers. Does Mr Maurya, while leaving that party (BJP) to join the SP’s punctured cycle, claim to be doing the politics of the backward classes?”

Also read: BJP has a challenger in UP 2022. Akhilesh Yadav’s campaign a shift away from Mulayam’s

Who is Swami Prasad Maurya?

Maurya, known as a grassroots leader, is a five-time MLA who has won his last three assembly elections from Padrauna. He began his political career as convener of the Yuva Lok Dal in the early 1980s, and had a stint in the Janata Dal before joining the BSP in 1996. 

He was elected as a BSP MLA in 1996, and went on to serve as a minister in the BJP-supported Mayawati government in 1997. He defected to the BJP in 2016, ahead of the last assembly elections, after two decades in the BSP. His daughter, Sanghmitra Maurya, is a sitting BJP MP who was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019. 

“Swami Prasad Maurya is a tall leader. To understand his politics, we need to go back to the 1990s. In OBC politics, there were two prominent leaders — Mulayam Singh Yadav and Swami Prasad Maurya. In 1996 before the Lok Sabha election, Maurya opposed the Janata Dal’s coalition with the Samajwadi Party and resigned from the party,” an SP source said.

“He then joined the BSP. He was the right-hand man of Mayawati and enjoyed a lot of clout. He quit the party to join the BJP ahead of the 2017 assembly elections. He has worked a lot for his community in the past many years,” added the source.

Also read: This is BJP’s new caste coalition for 2022 UP polls — the 7 parties & its members

Potential impact on OBC votes

Many credit the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2017 assembly polls to the support it garnered from non-Yadav OBCs. But this time around, not only has Maurya joined the SP, O.P. Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) has already aligned with the party.  

“The claim that the government is managed by the Thakurs will get more credence,” a close aide of Maurya told ThePrint. “His quitting the BJP and claiming that backward classes and Dalits are not getting the respect they should will only harm BJP’s prospects.”

“The BJP won 2017 by getting the support of the OBCs. But with the resignation of Maurya, the myth that the BJP has been creating — that OBCs other than Yadavs are with them — has been broken today,” added the aide.  

ThePrint had earlier reported how political parties in the state were trying to woo non-Yadav OBCs, who constitute about 35 per cent of the population. Kushwahas — among whom Maurya is an influential leader — are one of the most numerically significant non-Yadav OBC groups. 

“Maurya is the undisputed leader among the Maurya and Kushwaha community. Through his move, the SP will get absolute control over the backward votes and it will also help it to counter the claims that it is a party of Yadavs,” said another leader. 

A senior SP leader added, “Maurya has not only worked for his community but has also helped form local leadership among the community. The BJP had made tall promises but could not deliver even 10 per cent. He was ignored and was not given much work. He was often insulted politically.”

Calling Maurya a jan neta (people’s leader), senior SP leader Manoj Dhoopchandi said, “He is known for writing 100-200 letters every day to help the people. Mayawati had entrusted him with several departments, but in the BJP, he was not getting the attention he should have received.”

“His joining the SP will only strengthen it further. The BJP’s false claim that the SP is a party of Yadavs will be punctured through this move,” added Dhoopchandi.  

Arvind Kumar, a PhD scholar of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, said Maurya’s move would have a “massive impact” on the state elections.

“He is an original socialist leader. In the BSP government, too, he was a minister and held several key departments. He comes from the OBC community and has worked for their welfare all these years. His shifting has the potential to shift the OBC vote bank,” said Kumar.

“The BJP has Keshav Prasad Maurya as its deputy CM, but he doesn’t have the power and influence within the community that Maurya does, as everything is managed by Yogi,” he added.

However, other experts say the BJP’s losses are merely a matter of “perception”. 

“The BJP could suffer a loss in terms of perception, but on the ground the loss may not be significant — because the BJP also has tall leaders like Keshav Prasad Maurya and has the Apna Dal as its ally,” said Badri Narayan, political commentator and director of the GB Pant Social Science Institute in Prayagraj. 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: You are an OBC if you score 11/22 — We traced nearly 100 years of caste in Indian census


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