The BJP’s new state unit president in Uttar Pradesh has quite a bit in common with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Keshav Prasad Maurya used to be a tea seller and newspaper vendor when he joined the RSS. Years later, he became the BJP’s convener (president) in the Kashi region, Modi’s parliamentary constituency.
Now, as state party chief, he carries the BJP’s aspirations of resting Uttar Pradesh from the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), and breaking the party’s dry run in the last three assembly elections.
A non-Yadav, Maurya is also the BJP’s ‘backward class’ card aimed at swinging the OBC and SC/ST vote bank that comprises 32% and 23% of the state’s population respectively. SP’s core vote bank comprises of Muslims and Yadavs.
Maurya’s rise from a tea-seller and part-time newspaper hawker to the state president of BJP has been fast and impressive.
Hailing from a poor family in Sirathu area of Kaushambi district, he played an important role in the 1991 Ram Temple movement and emerged as a hardline Hindu leader under the tutelage of former VHP leader Ashok Singhal. His first test in political waters came in 2004 when BJP fielded him from the Allahabad West assembly constituency. He, however, lost the election.
In 2012, BJP fielded him again from Kaushambi’s Sirathu seat which he won. While he was serving as MLA, the party declared him their candidate from Phulpur in the 2014 parliamentary election, a seat that evaded the BJP for 60 years. Maurya proved his mettle by winning it.
“I joined the party at the grass root level and I consider myself a common worker even today,” Maurya said after being made party state chief.
Calling his appointment a victory of party workers, Maurya said it was the BJP that was making a difference in the state at a time when the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party are playing caste politics.
“I have no doubt that BJP will come to power in 2017. I will work with leaders and workers to ensure the party’s victory in the assembly election. We will up the ante against the SP government which needs to be very careful now. We will take to the streets to protest against any anti-people policies,” he said.
However, fielding the 47-year-old MP of Phulpur may be harder than usual given his tainted past, which includes cases of murder, loot, cheating, forgery, and causing damage to government property. Maurya’s affidavit from the 2014 parliamentary polls shows that various cases were registered against him at different police stations in Allahabad and Kaushambi.
No charges have been framed against him in court, and one case under the Goonda Act registered in Kauhsmabi in 2010 was expunged by the district magistrate on October 5, 2010.
Dismissing the issue, Maurya said, “The cases are political in nature. They were filed by my opponents because I was fighting for the aam aadmi.”
Political pundits though are unconvinced that the sketchy past will not be easy to play down, especially given Maurya’s image as a Hindu hardliner. They also believe that Maurya lacks appeal as a state-level leader.
However, the BJP’s “social engineering” could hold a higher advantage.
“BJP has appointed Maurya as its state unit chief to win over those backward voters who ideally support Apna Dal and Samajwadi Party. Maurya is a hardline Hindu leader but not as controversial as Kalyan Singh or Yogi Adityanath. Therefore, if BJP has to enter an alliance with other parties after the elections it may not face much problem,” said senior political scientist and vice-chancellor of Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University, MP Dube.
Maurya comes well regarded among his party colleagues, and is known to be an expert strategist. During his 10 months as BJP’s Kashi region convener in 2012, he became popular among party workers for his affability and boosted their confidence. Despite the party’s poor show in the UP assembly polls in 2012, the BJP had fared well in the municipal polls and won the Varanasi mayoral seat.
“Maurya is active on the social media and uses it as a tool to connect with the young workers and locals. He tries to respond to each worker’s call,” state BJP (IT cell) convener Karunesh Sharma said.