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Eye on elections, Team Modi casts a wider net to capture fresh talent

In picking the new faces for the council of ministers, the Narendra Modi government has skilfully balanced caste and regional aspirations — key aspects of electoral politics — with the intent of bringing on board candidates who are younger, more qualified, and with administrative and legislative experience
By Smriti Kak Ramachandran, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 08, 2021 12:51 AM IST

In picking the new faces for the council of ministers, the Narendra Modi government has skilfully balanced caste and regional aspirations — key aspects of electoral politics — with the intent of bringing on board candidates who are younger, more qualified, and with administrative and legislative experience.

The leitmotif of the new council, however, is the social engineering that has been attempted by giving a seat at the high table to castes considered to be at the bottom of the social and economic pyramid but that are assiduously wooed by the BJP.

As per the data shared by the government, there are as many as 27 Other Backward Castes,12 Scheduled Castes and eight Scheduled Tribes in the council of ministers. Notably these include some of the castes such as Darzi, Modh Teli among others that have been represented for the first time.

This clever mosaic of castes is aimed at building the Bharatiya Janata Party’s base in not just the election-bound states such as Uttar Pradesh but also in states where the party is keen to expand its footprint, such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka, and in states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra where it hopes to regain the seat of power.

The inclusions from UP have hogged the headlines for the possible impact it will have on the state elections in 2022. Caste is considered a key element in determining election outcomes in the state.

Of the seven who took oath today from the state, three are SCs, 3 OBCs and one upper caste. The composition is being perceived to reach out to the communities, particularly the OBCs who comprise nearly 40% of the electorate and have supported the BJP but are said to be upset over a slew of issues, including the lack of employment avenues. “The talk of sub-categorisation of OBCs, for instance, has not gone down well in UP, where larger groups like Kurmis feel their share of the reservation pie will be reduced,” said a senior BJP leader and a former minister on condition of anonymity.

To make up for the alienation, the BJP has included Anupriya Patel, a Kurmi leader in the council, along with B L Varma from the Lodh community, and SP Singh Baghel, Bhanu Pratap Verma and Kaushal Kishore who are Dalits.

“The BJP has been focusing on consolidating the non-Yadav OBCs, who are essentially Samajwadi Party supporters, and the choice of ministers is in keeping with that,” the leader quoted above said.

BJP’s former MP Bizay Sonkar Shastri, however, said the number of inclusions from UP should not be seen from the electoral prism alone. “The state is geographically large and has a larger constituency of people from many castes and communities. It makes sense to have more faces from UP to represent these sections,” he said.

From Gujarat that also goes to polls in 2022, the party has included Darshana Jardosh and elevated Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya as cabinet ministers.

Similarly, Anurag Thakur from poll-bound Himachal Pradesh has also been elevated to the cabinet and Ajay Bhatt from Uttarakhand included in the council as minister of state. Manipur that will also pick a new assembly in 2022 has been represented by a first-time MP, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, who has been given a cabinet berth.

In Jharkhand where the BJP is also not in power anymore, the party has picked Annpurna Devi, a former close aide of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, to be part of the council of ministers. Annapurna Devi is considered to have considerable clout among the Yadavs in Jharkhand. Similarly, the inclusion of Pashupati Kumar Paras is a move to consolidate its position among the Dalits in Bihar where the party is in a coalition government with the Janata Dal (United).

Will the choice of ministers accrue benefits for the party? Political commentator Abhay Deshpande said, “The BJP has been careful in picking the caste combination that will impact not just the election-bound states of Uttar Pradesh but also the outcome in Maharashtra and Karnataka. The party has chosen to focus on states which have the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats and also where it has the maximum strike rate.”

Dropping senior ministers ostensibly for reasons of performance is also an indication that the party is trying to project leaders with the clout among communities, Deshpande said.

“The party is clear that it wants leaders who can bring votes from a particular community or a region for maximum benefit,” he said.

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