Lucknow: The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh sacked cabinet minister Om Prakash Rajbhar and stripped seven members of his party of all government responsibilities Monday, a day after exit polls predicted a sweeping victory for the NDA.
The move comes after months of acrimony between the BJP and Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP). The SBSP has been at loggerheads with the BJP, accusing its government in UP of not adhering to its various demands such as sub-categorisation of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota.
The fallout intensified in April when the SBSP decided to contest general elections independently, with Rajbhar backing the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in the state and even predicting that the gathbandhan would sweep polls in the state.
The final straw appears to have come three days ago when the now-sacked backward classes welfare minister made headlines after he asked his supporters at a rally to thrash BJP workers with shoes. At another public event, Rajbhar supported Congress candidate for Mirzapur, Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, and SBSP flags were also seen in the constituency during Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s roadshow.
A prolonged rift
Rajbhar had offered his resignation from the backward class welfare ministry three months ago, alleging that the Adityanath government had been neglecting OBCs and not implementing the sub-categorisation of the OBC quota.
One of the two BJP allies in the state, the Apna Dal (S) being the other, the SBSP had threatened to quit the alliance at the time. BJP president Amit Shah then met Rajbhar in February to address his grievances but that did little to assuage the crisis.
Seat-sharing talks also failed to break the ice, following which Rajbhar offered his resignation and announced his decision to contest alone.
“The BJP kept us on hold, giving us false assurances that they would implement a quota within the 27 per cent OBC reservation by dividing it into three categories. It was only in the mid-election season that the BJP’s intentions became clear and that is when we decided to contest the polls on our own,” Arun Rajbhar, SBSP general secretary and younger son of Rajbhar, told ThePrint.
“We had fielded candidates in around 40 seats but we could only contest 22 properly. Most of these seats were in the last three phases.”
Appeasement prior to Lok Sabha polls
In a last-ditch attempt to appease its ally before the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government in UP had handed out high-profile posts to seven senior SBSP leaders when it made some 70 appointments in government boards and commissions. The announcement was made less than two hours before the Election Commission announced poll dates on 10 March, kicking in the model code of conduct.
One of the posts was handed to Arvind Rajbhar, another of Rajbhar’s sons, who was made the chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Small Industries Corporation Limited.
The party Monday termed this appointment process by the BJP as bait.
“We had given them a list of 38-39 deserving candidates from the Rajbhar community for these appointments but the BJP appointed only six,” said Arun. “The BJP did this because it wanted to get the Rajbhar community votes in the general elections. The community, however, is not ignorant enough to give votes so easily. We had been asking for our political right but instead of granting us our right, they handed us lollipops.”
The one-time BSP leader
Rajbhar began his political career in the early ’80s and was with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) till 2001 when he quit after falling out with party chief Mayawati. The clash had taken place over the renaming of Bhadohi as Sant Kabir Nagar.
A year later, Rajbhar founded the SBSP and headquartered it in Varanasi district. In the years that followed, the party contested at least seven elections in UP and Bihar, albeit unsuccessfully. In 2017, however, SBSP won four assembly seats as a BJP ally.
The party claims to have influence in the Purvanchal region of UP where the Rajbhars, an OBC community, are believed to comprise 18 per cent of the population. Thus, apart from the implementation of OBC quota division, another long-standing demand of the SBSP has been the separation of Purvanchal from UP and its constitution as another state.