Aiming to strengthen its grip on the backward communities in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP on Friday appointed OBC leader and Phulpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya — a former tea-seller and VHP activist — its chief in the country’s most populous state.
UP goes to polls early next year and the BJP hopes to repeat its Lok Sabha performance, where it won 71 of the 80 parliamentary seats. Former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa also returned as president of Karnataka BJP, which is trying to win back support of the Lingayats to dislodge the Congress government.
Union minister and Dalit leader Vijay Sampla , former Lok Sabha MP Tapir Gao, and Dr K Laxman were appointed BJP presidents in Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh and Telangana respectively. Gao belongs to the ST community and OBC leader Laxman is BJP’s floor leader in the Telangana assembly.
Of all the five appointments on Friday, the one in UP is a crucial one. The party is gearing up for a four-cornered contest in the assembly elections and is trying to strengthen its support base among OBCs. Maurya’s community is considered aligned with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Union ministers Manoj Sinha and Mahesh Sharma were also considered for the assignment but Maurya’s social background tipped the scales in his favour, said sources. That he is not identified with any particular group within the BJP also went to his advantage.
Maurya, however, is not seen as a mass leader with enough political experience and leading the faction-ridden state unit will be a tough task for him, a party leader said. He contested his first election in 2012 (assembly) and then in 2014 (Lok Sabha), winning both.
The 47-year-old MP is a former functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an active participant during the Ram janmabhoomi movement, and has several criminal cases pending against him. “He comes from a humble background and used to sell tea and newspapers to support his education,” BJP general secretary Arun Singh said.
Accounting for 17% of Karnataka’s population, Lingayats deserted the BJP after Yeddyurappa quit the party in 2012 to start a separate party, Karnataka Janata Paksh (KJP), to contest the 2013 assembly election separately. The Karnataka high court in January quashed charges against him in a land scam, which set the stage for his return at the helm in the state that goes to polls in 2018.
With Yeddyurappa’s rehabilitation, who merged KJP with the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP expects to win back the community’s support that will help it dislodge the Congress from power in the state.
Vijay Sampla will lead the BJP in Punjab, which will go to polls early next year. The BJP is eyeing expansion in the northern state and with Sampla as its leader, the BJP has tried to woo Dalits who account for about 32% of the population. The BJP is a junior partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in an alliance and has shared power for the last 10 years. In the next round of reshuffle, the BJP is likely to announce state unit chiefs in six more states, including Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand.