New Delhi: The 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election is closing in and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is believed to have received his brief from the BJP brass: Work on a caste coalition, seen by the BJP as a key factor in its win at the Centre in 2014 and 2019, and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, besides working on Covid health infrastructure in districts and vaccination in mission mode.
Adityanath had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president J.P. Nadda in Delhi Friday, and briefed them about the concerns raised by senior party leaders during review meetings held in Lucknow and Delhi over the past two weeks. The review meetings were aimed at getting ground feedback about the Yogi Adityanath government’s functioning, the common man’s perception after the second Covid wave, and party workers’ opinion about the state government.
On a two-day visit to the national capital, he also met Union Home Minister Amit Shah Thursday.
The BJP, sources in the party said, sees Covid as potentially a major disruptor in the coming election.
In light of the second Covid wave, which wreaked havoc across the country, there have been concerns in the BJP over the Adityanath government’s perceived mismanagement of the crisis. In Uttar Pradesh, not just the Opposition, but several leaders within the BJP too flagged issues such as oxygen shortage, black-marketing of key Covid-related medical equipment, and difficulties in securing hospital beds, in letters to Adityanath.
According to party sources, the chief minster briefed the PM about the Covid situation in the state and its preparedness for a possible third wave, besides asking for more vaccines.
“In a more than one-hour meeting with the PM, the CM briefed him about the party’s preparations for the assembly election and the political situation in state. The Prime Minister asked him questions on many issues, including on the vaccination programme, and suggested better coordination between the party and the government,” a source said.
The suggestions offered by the PM included engaging party workers in the vaccination exercise.
A similar theme underlined Adityanath’s meeting with Nadda, the sources added.
The sources said Adityanath presented Nadda with a booklet on steps taken to address the Covid-19 situation and the migrant crisis triggered by last year’s lockdown. However, the crux of his meeting, sources said, was a possible cabinet reshuffle, better coordination between the party and the government, and discussions about the party’s performance in the panchayat polls earlier this year, in which more Samajwadi Party-backed candidates won than those with the BJP.
The situation in UP was also discussed at a subsequent meeting at the PM’s residence Friday that was attended by Shah and Nadda.
Speculation about a possible cabinet reshuffle has been triggered by reports that the BJP is seeking to address an alleged perception in the state that Adityanath, a Thakur, leads a government that looks out for the community. Adityanath’s visit to Delhi came just as former Congress leader Jitin Prasada, a Brahmin, joined the BJP. The induction was seen as BJP outreach to Brahmins, and sources said Prasada could be sworn in as minister in the event of a reshuffle.
Working for a caste coalition
Speaking to ThePrint, a BJP leader said Adityanath’s meeting with Nadda centred on a possible reshuffle and addressing the demands of alliance partners.
“Since whatever corrective step has to be taken for a caste coalition, better coordination and to defuse cadre resentment, [which] was conveyed by Amit Shah ji yesterday, Yogi discussed with Nadda ji a possible reshuffle and alliance partners’ demands. Nadda ji’s emphasis was on the remaining zilla parishad elections and party efforts for better stakes in district-level elections and future organisation activity regarding assembly polls,” the leader added.
Since five legislative council seats will get vacant in July, party functionaries said the BJP is is considering the option of sending Prasada to the state upper house to become eligible for induction in the Yogi cabinet.
There are currently eight Brahmin ministers in the state cabinet of 53 members. Sources said the strength of the council of ministers can extend up to 60. Other potential inductees, sources said, include Ashis Patel, the chief of Apna Dal and husband of former Union minister Anupriya Patel.
Talking about the need to build a caste coalition, a second senior BJP leader said, “The Covid second wave has caused a heavy impact on the common man. Thousands of people have lost their kin in this wave due to the unavailability of health infrastructure. Covid uncertainty, loss of jobs, unemployment can create a big impact on assembly elections if our caste arithmetic and health infrastructure are not in our favour.”
The BJP leader went on to say that the opposition could make Covid mismanagement a big issue. “…So our dependence will increase on caste coalitions. Our spectacular performance in 2014, 2017 and 2019 in UP was due to a larger caste coalition and Modi popularity. That time, Covid was not present as a big disruptor, so it is the need of the hour to check our strengths and rely on them,” the leader said.
Patel, who threatened in 2019 to step out of the alliance after she was not inducted into the Union Cabinet, met Shah Thursday. The BJP, sources said, has started negotiations with her for sharing of power in the state and at the Centre.
‘Long list of demands’
Other key options being explored towards building this caste coalition is inducting the members of Sanjay Nishad’s party into power. A member of the Nishad caste, Sanjay Nishad’s party is known to have considerable influence in eastern UP, especially Gorakhpur and Mirzapur.
Eastern UP is a prime focus of the BJP as it is expecting to lose in the state’s western areas on account of the farmers’ agitation, and possible Jat-Muslim unity in favour of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Samajwadi Party.
In 2018, when the Nishad Party was with the Samajwadi Party, the latter won the the parliamentary by-election from Gorakhpur, defeating the BJP in Yogi’s stronghold.
In 2019, the party tied up with the BJP, and Nishad’s son was given a ticket from Sant Kabir Nagar, a seat he went on to win.
Sources said back-channel talks have also been initiated with Om Praksah Rajbhar, who split from the alliance in 2019 amid differences over seat sharing.
Although Rajbhar has announced that he will fight with a separate alliance and there is no question of going with the BJP, sources in the party say he is a tough negotiator and his list of demands is long.
“Their list of demands is long but they know our strengths and their own, so any adjustment will be on these lines,” said a BJP leader.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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