BJP in search of young face from the upper caste in Uttar Pradesh to counter CM Akhilesh Yadav
BJP Chief Amit Shah has clarified that the party has not yet taken a call on whether it will declare a CM candidate in UP or not but has declared Samajwadi Party as its main opponent in the UP elections due early next year. That would make Akhilesh—whose five years at the helm will be put to test—the main concern for BJP.
With the appointment of Keshav Prasad Maurya, Koeri leader from the Extremely Backward Caste who has a VHP background, as BJP state unit chief, the party has made overtures to both the backwards and the Hindutva forces. However, as a balancing act, it is likely to project some upper caste leaders in its campaign to keep the upper caste voters in good humour.
The party brass confirmed to ET that along with Modi, Rajnath Singh—also the last BJP CM of UP— would be used extensively in the campaign. Modi emphasised at the Saharanpur rally that he is an MP from the state, a visible attempt to beat the “Bihari versus Bahari” kind of campaign against him by JD(U)-RJD in Bihar last year.Some BJP leaders from UP maintain that the cadre feels Rajnath Singh would be the most acceptable CM face but Singh himself has made it clear that he is no longer a part of UP politics ever since he moved to the Centre.
There have been some voices within BJP demanding that Yogi Adityanath, MP from Gorakhpur, be made the CM candidate. The name of HRD Minister Smriti Irani is also doing the rounds but some leaders are wary of the “Bahari (outsider)” tag that may be attached to her by BJP’s opponents.
BJP has usually declared a CM candidate in UP though the 2012 polls were an exception. Kalyan Singh was the BJP CM face in 1993, 1996 and then in 2007. Rajnath Singh was the CM candidate in 2002 when he was the outgoing chief minister. In 2012, four BJP leaders—Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti, Kalraj Mishra and Surya Pratap Sahi— led the campaign. However, despite all these experiments, BJP’s assembly seats have declined in each election from the high of 221/415 in 1991 when no CM candidate was declared.