The trio of a non-Yadav backward, a non-Jatav Dalit and a Brahmin minister Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked from Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday reflects the BJP’s caste focus ahead of next year’s assembly polls in the politically crucial state.
It also reflects the party’s focus on central and east UP in the selection of Shahjahanpur MP Krishna Raj, a Pasi, Mirzapur MP Anupriya Patel, a Kurmi of Apna Dal and old BJP war horse of the temple flame, Chandauli MP Mahendra Pandey, a Brahmin.
The three UP ministers are among 19 that the PM hand-picked from 10 states for his ministry expansion.
The constituencies of both Pandey and Patel are adjacent to PM Modi’s Varanasi, making many believe that the expansion has also been undertaken to ensure that with the PM busy, the area around his constituency is taken care of in his absence. Union minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha’s Ghazipur Lok Sabha constituency too is close to Varanasi.
Despite the exit of Agra MP Ram Shankar Katheria -- a former RSS pracharak and a Dalit – -- his services are likely to be utilised in the organisation.
Along with Modi, UP now has 16 ministers in keeping with the 71 MPs that the BJP got from the state in the 2014 parliamentary polls.
Among his top four ministers, Lucknow MP and union home minister Rajnath Singh and defense minister Manohar Parrikar, a Rajya Sabha MP from UP, also represent the state.
The latest Modi ministry expansion also reflects the realisation within the top BJP leadership that its own home grown Kurmi leadership has failed to deliver.
Despite the presence of veterans Vinay Katiyar and Om Prakash Singh, the BJP chose to opt for what a party insider called, “an outsider” in Anupriya Patel to strengthen the Kurmi vote bank, which is also being eyed by the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
The Modi ministry has a Kurmi minister in veteran Santosh Gangwar, a seven-time MP from Bareilly but the BJP’s decision to go with a young Kurmi face – Anupriya is 35 years – is indicative of the fact that the BJP is planning to make a long-term investment in the state.
Along with targeting the backwards, the BJP has also tried a fine balancing act by promoting Brahmins.
Little ahead of the ministry expansion, the BJP had indicated its preference for Brahmin and east UP by sending party veteran Shiv Pratap Shukla to the Rajya Sabha.
With Pandey’s induction, UP now has four Brahmin faces in Modi ministry – Deoria MP Kalraj Mishra, Gautam Buddha Nagar MP Mahesh Sharma, Pilibhit MP Maneka Gandhi and now Mahendra Pandey.
Since the exit of Meerut MLA and UP BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpai, the BJP was looking for a suitable replacement. The party’s tallest upper caste leader in UP is Rajnath Singh –a Thakur.
The 16 ministers in UP reflect party president Amit Shah’s focus on balancing the complex caste demands in the state.
UP BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak, however, said the expansion reflects the party’s development focus. “If you focus on just caste you miss out the key development narrative. Why do you miss out the fact that so many professionals have been included in the ministry?” he said.