Rajnath, Varun Gandhi, Smriti, Adityanath: Who will be BJP’s CM face in UP?

  • Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 01, 2016 18:05 IST
BJP president Amit Shah having a meal with a Dalit family in Varanasi on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. (PTI)

New Delhi: The BJP, which has started its preparations for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, is in a dilemma over who will be the face of the party in this crucial electoral battle. An internal survey to find the right candidate has only complicated the decision.

Party president Amit Shah admitted as much when he recently met a few editors over tea, telling them the BJP was yet to decide whether it would declare a chief ministerial candidate in UP. He did tell them, though, that the ruling Samajwadi Party was the main opponent.

Deliberations within the party and the internal survey commissioned by Shah have zeroed in on three names — Smriti Irani, Varun Gandhi and Yogi Adityanath. Home minister Rajnath Singh was a popular choice but is disinclined to move out of North Block to take up the lead role in his home state.

The BJP recently named Keshav Prasad Maurya, a leader from the backward Koeri caste who has a VHP background, as its state unit chief. “Having appointed an OBC leader as party chief, the party has to consolidate its support among the upper castes. But we do not have many options,” a BJP leader associated with UP matters told HT.

One of the many proposals under consideration is for Rajnath Singh to helm the campaign committee, which would include prominent faces like Uma Bharti, Sanjeev Balyan and Mahesh Sharma — all Union ministers from different social backgrounds — besides Gandhi and Adityanath.

However, this would mean the BJP would face the elections without a CM candidate, a tactic the party leadership is unsure of — particularly against incumbent chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati.

The survey is learnt to have indicated that both Irani and Gandhi are expected to draw votes from beyond the BJP’s regions of strength.

Gandhi is considered the most popular among the cadre. But his reluctance to join the Hindutva bandwagon, his tactical shift towards left-of-centre politics and an alleged trust deficit between him and Shah diminish the probability of his nomination.

Irani, on the other hand, is a household name and considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But she is seen to have limited sway in the caste-centric politics of the country’s most populous state. Her electoral track record doesn’t inspire confidence either and she is carries the ‘outsider’ tag in UP.

The third option, Adityanath, is a polarising figure. He consolidates Hindu votes, but can alienate other social groups such as Brahmins, with whom he shares a strained relationship.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually launched the BJP’s campaign at a rally in western UP’s Saharanpur district last week, where he called himself a “UP-wala”. This was followed by Shah addressing a farmers’ rally in Allahabad and making a lunch stopover at a Dalit home in Varanasi on Tuesday.

Next up is the BJP’s national executive in Allahabad. And with its first list of candidate expected in July, time is running out for the party to find a face for the polls.

“The RSS wants the BJP to take a call by September. The decision will be taken by the BJP leadership,” said a source.

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