UP elections: Keshav Prasad Maurya rises up ranks after OBC leaders exit BJP
Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya is suddenly everywhere -- appealing to other backward class (OBC) leaders exiting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to reconsider their decisions; welcoming defectors to the party; or targeting the Samajwadi Party and its leader Akhilesh Yadav.
It hasn’t missed anyone’s attention that this increased visibility comes after many of the OBC leaders who left the BJP for the SP said the BJP was neglecting OBCs and Dalits -- and who better than a OBC leader Maurya to counter that.
Maurya’s graph, analysts say, started looking up in June, when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent, brokered a truce between him and chief minister Yogi Adityanath; soon after, the CM drove for a luncheon meeting to Maurya’s residence, where, in the presence of top Sangh leaders the two projected the image of a united family.
Then came the departures, with one of the ministers leaving the party for the BJP claiming Maurya himself had been sidelined in the party.
During the 2017 UP assembly elections, Keshav Prasad Maurya was the party’s state chief and held around 200 rallies, perhaps the most by any state leader. By the time the elections entered the last lap, the BJP, propelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an OBC himself, was confident of a consolidation of the OBC vote in its favour.
OBCs account for around 45% of the state’s electorate with Yadavs, considered loyal to the main opposition Samajwadi Party, being the most dominant. In the 2017 UP polls, the BJP succeeded in attracting a majority of non-Yadav OBCs, who along with non-Jatav Dalits, were the mainstays of the party win; it won 312 seats in the 403-member UP assembly.
Ahead of the 2017 UP polls, the BJP poached Swami Prasad Maurya, the OBC face of the Bahujan Samaj Party and a grassroots leader. But his sudden exit just before the 2022 assembly polls, triggering a spate of resignations has, party leaders concede, only increased the reliance on the “original Maurya”.
When asked about Keshav Prasad’s appeal to them to reconsider, Swami Prasad maurya described the deputy chief minister as the “RSS’s parrot.”
“Keshavji is a good leader. We respect him and he should join us as he, too, was betrayed as he wasn’t made the chief minister,” said Swami Prasad Maurya. Indeep, Keshav Prasad Maurya’s name was among those that did the rounds after the 2017 elections as a possible chief ministerial candidate.
The BJP list of candidates is dominated by OBCs. Party leaders admit that Maurya, whose candidature was announced by the BJP along with that of chief minister Yogi Adityanath had a role in this.
“He is soft spoken, rarely loses his cool and is extremely popular among party lawmakers and functionaries and has a great public connect,” said Dharmraj Maurya, the party’s Kaushambi unit functionary.
Many were surprised when the BJP’s Sirathu MLA Sheetla Prasad Patel was seen celebrating after being dropped by the party.
“I celebrated because I was replaced by my mentor Keshavji. It was he who had introduced me to Sirathu and now if he is coming back, how can I not be happy?” Patel said.
Keshav Maurya is believed to enjoy good relations with the party’s OBC allies, Apna Dal and Nishad Party. The BJP has firmed up a pre-poll alliance with them and the Apna Dal is expected to get around 15 seats and the Nishad Party, 10 as part of the seat-sharing agreement, party leaders said.
Political experts said Keshav Prasad Maurya has several things going for him.
“I think before joining the BJP, he was with Vishwa Hindu Parishad and close to the late Ashok Singhal. That obviously means that like chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the deputy CM has also been part of the temple movement. He is an OBC and as the state’s PWD minister; he is also someone tasked with bettering the state’s road network. So, this blend of Hindutva, OBC and development means his utility is high for his party,” said Prof.Manuka Khanna of Lucknow University’s political science department.
In the run-up to the 2022 UP polls, Keshav Prasad Maurya has raised the Mathura temple issue and followed it up with a comment on “jaalidar topiwaley gundey (those who wear skull caps)”, both seen by analysts as his way of asserting his Hindutva credentials.
At the foundation stone laying event of the Jewar airport, many noticed how Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Keshav Prasad Maurya and raised his hand along with that of chief minister Yogi Adityanath to symbolically indicate that the party was united ahead of the polls
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav refused to take a query on Keshav Prasad Maurya, stating that he won’t discuss someone who remained “apmanit (humiliated)” in the party for five years — a line that has been taken by all opposition OBC leaders leaving the BJP.
“Jo apni party mein apmanit raha ho, uspe kya baat karein (what to talk of someone who remained humiliated in his party),” Akhilesh Yadav said.