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Post Amit Shah visit to Lucknow: Change of guard unlikely; party high command for image makeover

A facebook post, two tweets, a controversial remark and a press conference with rebellious undertone – all by BJP leaders, before, during and after BJP chief Amit Shah’s stock taking visit to Lucknow-- dominated much of the political discourse on Wednesday.

lucknow Updated: Apr 13, 2018 11:24 IST
Manish Chandra Pandey
Manish Chandra Pandey
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Amit Shah,Lucknow,Uttar Pradesh
Yogi Adityanath offering prayers at Bangalmukhi temple in Datia, Madhya Pradesh on Thursday. The CM later tweeted about his visit.(HT Photo)

A facebook post, two tweets, a controversial remark and a press conference with rebellious undertone – all by BJP leaders, before, during and after BJP chief Amit Shah’s stock taking visit to the state capital -- dominated much of the political discourse on Wednesday.

During his marathon nearly eight-hour closed door meeting with chief minister Yogi Adityanath, other leaders and party’s allies, the one unmistakable message that the BJP chief tried to send out was the need to protect the image of the party and the government, BJP leaders privy to the talks on Wednesday said.

Shah would be back, probably this month itself, to check if the party had started work on the tasks assigned by him, they said.

“His message to the party and the government were clear- preserve party’s growing strength in caste dominated state,”,” a party leader said.

BJP leadership is unlikely to act immediately against its rebel Dalit MPs, who recently embarrassed the party, for the simple reason that it didn’t want to be seen as ‘anti-dalit’ in its actions, another party leader said.

Explaining Shah’s macro level planning, a BJP insider said, “He is aware of the value of each vote, each caste group and sub group. That’s why Shah happily granted an audience even to unreasonable ally like the OBC-dominated Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Both SBSP and Kurmi dominated Apna Dal leaders returned satisfied.”

The facebook post and a tweet by a BJP media panellist Deepti Bhardwaj with strong RSS roots and a tweet by an upper caste BJP leader. IP Singh after Shah left in defense of Adityanath but pointing an accusing finger at a ‘influential person’ for thwarting the arrest of the rape accused BJP lawmaker left the party red faced. The posts largely questioned the government’s handling of the Unnao rape and murder cases.

“There is a possibility that the party could act against Deepti Bharadwaj, ” they said.

Also, BJP’s Dalit MP from Bahraich Savitri Bai Phule timed her press conference with Shah’s visit and expressed doubts on party’s commitment on reservation, ostensibly to derail Shah’s Dalit outreach plan for which he had begun his Lucknow visit by visiting a memorial, built during BSP leader Mayawati’s rule, to pay homage to Dalit icon Jyotiba Phule. Some BSP and SP leaders admitted that while the BJP was eyeing making defections in their unit, they too have “a few surprises” in store, indicating those who joined the BJP from other parties are now being ‘wooed’ by their “parent parties.”

BJP strategists, however, said it’s the problem from within that worries the party high command.

“He managed to placate his angry allies like SBSP whose chief Om Prakash Rajbhar said he was satisfied with his meetings with Shah. But the real problem lies within,” they said.

“The developments merely brought to the fore that despite its brute majority in the UP assembly where BJP has 311 lawmakers out of 403, all is not well within the party. Since all these developments were timed around Shah’s visit they appeared to be all the more embarrassing,” said Athar Siddiqui of the Centre of Objective Research and Development.

Political analyst also point out the shocking remark of party MLA from Bairia Surendra Singh “who would rape a mother of three”, just when Shah was busy holding meetings over a working lunch. “How will the BJP defend this? It had come to power on the promise for being a party with a difference and gone on to coin slogans like ‘Beti bachao, beti padhao and beti ke samman main bhajapa maidan main’. What happened to that,” asked Congress leader Devendra Pratap Singh.

“BJP is still a party of upper caste leaders and mindset. Why are Shah and Yogi silent now?” asked Tariq Siddiqui of the Samajwadi Party.

Despite major image setbacks and ‘flawed handling of various issues’, the party, so far, has ruled out any immediate change of guard, either in the government or the party. However, many of them, requesting anonymity, admit that a ‘course correction’ will be made at some point.

“Previously when Keshav Prasad Maurya, an OBC, was the BJP chief, the party had its caste chemistry right -- an upper caste was heading the government and an OBC the party. It remains to be seen when that change is effected as reports of friction among top leaders in the government have often surfaced,” BJP leaders said.

Until Shah returns, BJP leaders have their task cut out – chart strategy for MLC elections in which SP is backing BSP’s Bhimrao Ambedkar whom BJP defeated in the Rajya Sabha elections. “Shah is aware of the growing SP-BSP closeness and that means he is working on a plan to counter it too,” a party strategist confided.

Containing growing Dalit dissent within the party is another of those tasks. “The selection of nominees for MLC elections and later the cabinet reshuffle, where OBCs and Dalits could gain more representation, will give a sense of balance. But it’s a fine tightrope walk, because bending too much towards numerically dominant OBCs and Dalits would mean risking the loyal upper caste voters,” he said.

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 11:24 IST