Third minister quits UP cabinet in 3 days

Another BJP lawmaker Bala Prasad Awasthi, from Dharauhra assembly segment of Lakhimpur Kheri, quit late Thursday evening.
Dharam Singh Saini gestures outside his residence after resigning as a minister ahead of the UP assembly polls. (Deepak Gupta/HT)
Dharam Singh Saini gestures outside his residence after resigning as a minister ahead of the UP assembly polls. (Deepak Gupta/HT)
Updated on Jan 14, 2022 12:25 AM IST
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ByManish Chandra Pandey & Smriti Kak Ramachandran, Lucknow/new Delhi

Dharam Singh Saini, the Ayush minister of Uttar Pradesh quit the council of ministers on Thursday, becoming the third other backward classes (OBCs) minister to do so in as many days, jolting the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the assembly elections scheduled to be held in seven phases between February 10 and March 7. Like the others, he is believed to be headed for the Samajwadi Party.

Another BJP lawmaker Bala Prasad Awasthi, from Dharauhra assembly segment of Lakhimpur Kheri, quit late Thursday evening. He is a four-term MLA who joined the BJP ahead of the 2017 UP polls. Fourteen lawmakers, including three ministers (most of them OBCs), have signalled their exit from the BJP since the poll schedule was announced on January 8. The trend of resignations, primarily of OBC lawmakers from across the state, gained strength after labour minister Swami Prasad Maurya quit the Uttar Pradesh cabinet on January 11. The following day, environment minister Dara Singh Chauhan resigned.

The resignations have dented the BJP’s efforts at consolidating the Hindu vote, which helped it win in 2014, 2017, and 2019. This is built around its strategy of social engineering, a concept credited to a former general secretary, KS Govindacharya, that involved building an unlikely coalition of castes, not all of whom are amiable and accommodating to each other. The BJP has been trying this approach in UP since the 1990s and it has worked spectacularly over the past decade, with the party’s share of votes in the 2019 parliamentary election touching 50% in the state. OBCs account for around 50% of the voters in the state, according to the latest National Family Health Survey-5 findings.

But the approach appears to be fraying now .

While some BJP leaders familiar with the matter in Delhi say the exits were caused by fears of being dropped as candidates , others admitted that there are real issues -- ranging from the perception that OBCs haven’t got their due under CM Yogi Adityanath to rising aspirations among OBCs (which means their leaders have to deliver on benefits).

Political commentator Manisha Priyam said the churning in the state has been set off by resurgence of assertions among OBCs. “There is a demand-side led resurgence of the poor and the peasantry who are affected by the pandemic and rising prices affecting their livelihood. They are demanding social justice and leaving no room for the political manoeuvring for their leaders. So, the leaders are being pushed to see if they can assert themselves and expand their social base,” she said.

Saini, a Swami Prasad Maurya loyalist and lawmaker from the Nakur assembly seat in Saharanpur in western UP, was spotted at the main opposition Samajwadi Party office, a stone’s throw away from Swami Prasad Maurya’s Kalidas Marg residence, currently the hub of all rebel activity in the BJP.

Like Maurya and Chauhan, Saini, too, sent his resignation to governor Anandiben Patel.

“I came to meet Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on his invitation and assurance that backwards and Dalits would get justice in the Samajwadi Party. I told him that I will consult Swami Prasad ji and will soon take a collective decision,” Saini said.

Maurya (and his supporters) and Chauhan met Yadav, separately, on Thursday too and Maurya said they would make an announcement on January 14.

“We took a vow to defeat the BJP in the assembly elections. A joint declaration with the SP will be made on January 14 (Friday). There is a tsunami against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and it will be brought [down] to the 47-seat tally that it won the 2012 assembly elections,” he said.

After initially trying to pacify them, the BJP has begun to hit out at the rebels.

While UP minister Sidharth Nath Singh described the resignations as a case of “vinash kaley viprit buddhi” (weird notions just ahead of destruction), UP BJP chief Swatantra Dev, an OBC leader himself, was more direct.

“Those who failed to get a ticket of the double engine BJP train are now being sold tickets in black for his rickety van by Tipu Sultan,” the UP BJP chief tweeted. Yadav’s nickname is Tipu.

“Why is that they waited full five years before realising that the BJP did nothing for their castes. Why did they not raise these concerns at the party forum or in the cabinet meetings?” asked Singh.

Along with chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Swatantra Dev and deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya are in Delhi to discuss candidates. The BJP, along with its pre-poll allies Apna Dal (Sonelal) and Nishad Party, is likely to announce the names of at least 150 candidates on Friday. The UP assembly has 403 seats.

Chauhan, who quit the cabinet on Wednesday, refuted the BJP charge that only those who fear they will not get a BJP ticket are looking elsewhere.

“I never begged for a ticket. In fact, I never wanted to contest but was made to,” he said, adding that he won the Madhuban seat for the first time for the BJP in 2017 UP polls.

Amid the exodus, came a few denials too. Three BJP lawmakers and a minister have denied they are leaving the party with two of them even registering a police complaint against the “canard” of them leaving the party.

BJP MLA from Bhadohi Ravindra Tripathi and the lawmaker from Bithri Chainpur Rajesh Mishra have approached the police seeking action against those spreading rumours about them quitting the party. And UP’s cooperatives minister Mukut Bihari Verma also denied rumours about him being on the list of rebels.

Political analysts caution against reading too much into the pre-poll desertions.

“These aren’t good optics, but how these play out in the election campaign is yet to be seen. Perception wise, it could be comforting for the Opposition, though,” said Irshad Ilmi, a political observer.

On Wednesday, the BJP inducted Naresh Saini, the Congress’s OBC lawmaker from Saharanpur in western UP, who hails from the same community as Swami Prasad Maurya, three-time SP MLA Hari Om Yadav, and former SP lawmaker Dharampal Singh into the party.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022