The BJP faces its worst dilemma ahead of the most crucial election in Uttar Pradesh. While the party’s rank and file want to enter the battlefield with a strong CM face, the BJP leadership’s hunt for a mass leader from the state every time hits a wall.
The party’s political predicament was best reflected in BJP national president Amit Shah’s quip in an informal chat with media recently on projecting a chief ministerial face. When asked if BJP would benefit from projecting a CM face in UP, like it did in Assam, he had said, “Strategy in one state does not always work in another state. BJP has been traditionally strong in UP and has a strong network of workers up to the booth level.”
Ever since he got free from elections in the country’s east, Shah has been addressing a spate of booth level meetings to oil the party machinery rather than getting bogged down by the ongoing debate on chief ministerial face of the party. Notwithstanding the ongoing surveys requisitioned by the party, the high command perhaps knows that boosting the morale of the party cadre would be easier than finding a leader with a mass appeal.
Political commentator from West UP Ashok Shastri says, “Do they have a face acceptable in four regions of the state that are completely diverse in character and characteristics. A leader from West will be either unknown or unacceptable to the East.”
Also, the caste complexities are more acute. Till the time former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in action, the BJP promoted backward leader Kalyan Singh, the temple hero. Vajpayee was the tallest Brahmin leader even though he never projected himself as one. Today when they have backwards as their Prime Minister and state president, the party is aggressively trying to woo the extremely backward and Dalits ahead of the elections.
In this caste conscious state, the party cannot afford to ignore the upper caste. As such even from among the upper caste, another issue is of choosing a ‘Brahmin or a Rajput,’ especially when the two regional parties are waiting in the wings to grab the disgruntled community.
Teacher’s leader from Gorakhpur Chitranjan Mishra disagrees and says, “Brahmins went with Mayawati in 2007 but barring SC Mishra and his family none benefitted. Instead cases under SC/ST Act were slapped on them.”
According to him BJP lacked a leader who is known beyond his or her home district. A political rival quips, “The BJP has a problem of equals. Barring Union home minister Rajnath Singh, it is packed with leaders who are by and large equal in their limited appeal.”
While Amit Shah has remained non-committal on the projection of a CM face after his May quip, other leaders are often found saying that there has been no discussion in the party on the subject so far or the BJP will bank on Narendra Modi’s charisma that had bagged 71 seats in 2014 elections.
Ashok Shastri, however, says the only way BJP can enter the arena is by changing the political debate in the state, by setting up a state reorganization commission or making a statement on external affairs, especially on the country relations with Pakistan.
There is also a view that the BJP is waiting for the Congress to open its cards first. But with barely eight months to go for the elections, the party will have to take an early call if they want to groom someone, which unfortunately neither of the two national parties have done at the state level. It could be because the Gandhi family won electoral battles for the Congress and Vajpayee for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. After leaders of mettle – Vir Bahadur Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari and Vishwanath Pratap Singh (who later formed Janata Dal) in Congress and Kalyan Singh in BJP, both national parties have not groomed leaders at the state level.