Not too long ago, it seemed return of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in Uttar Pradesh (UP) with Yogi Adityanath as chief minister would be virtually a cakewalk for him. Suddenly, speculations about political winds not favouring him but his key rival – Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) have raised questions about Yogi’s credentials. It is possible, state elections may spell more problems for BJP than probably envisaged by Yogi and his supporters. Paradoxically, this political storm has risen from BJP’s own camp. What else can be said about decision of a key UP minister and four of his supporters to quit BJP and join SP? Yes, this refers to changing of political camp by UP Minister Swami Prasad Maurya and four other BJP MLAs taking the same step.
Maurya is regarded as a strong OBC (Other Backward Class) leader, who constitute roughly 35% of electorate in UP. What also commands attention is nature of his resignation. Virtually lashing out at Yogi, Maurya’s resignation letter states, “Despite a divergent ideology, I worked with dedication in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet. But because of the grave oppression of Dalits, OBCs, farmers, unemployed and small businessmen, I am resigning.” “They (BJP) have worked against the people. I expressed dissent at appropriate platforms but my voice was never heard. The result is I have had to resign,” he remarked.
Earlier, he had reportedly complained to Union Home Minister Amit Shah about Yogi but without much success. Steps are being considered to persuade Maurya and his supporters’ return to BJP. But at present, nothing can be said about their outcome.
Maurya is a five-time member of UP Assembly. He quit Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 2016 to join BJP and now has moved over to Akhilesh Yadav (SP)’s party. The same path has been followed by four other state legislators, also known as close to him. They are Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati, Bhagwati Sagar and Vinay Shakya. They were also members of BSP before joining BJP and now they are with SP.
BJP-stalwarts weren’t probably prepared for this turn in UP politics just ahead of state elections. Politicking in play at several levels is apparently playing a fairly complicated role, spelling an electoral headache for Yogi and his supporters. Interestingly, this has more to do with intra-party politicking than with rival parties. Voice raised by Maurya against Yogi is just a mild indicator of this hard reality. He has not spared Yogi harsh criticism, holding him responsible for his resignation. With respect to rival parties, prospects of Congress returning to power still seem remote. Nevertheless, BJP’s loss of its key leaders enhance chances of other rival parties performing better in 2022 than they did in 2017 elections. At present, BJP’s loss has been SP’s gain.
There is yet another aspect of this political storm which needs to be reflected upon, and this is regarding future aims of Yogi. Yes, the 49-year politician is not likely to be satisfied with being just the UP chief minister for too long. Prior to taking charge of UP, he was elected member of Lok Sabha for five consecutive terms from Gorakhpur. At 26, he was the youngest member of 12th Lok Sabha. He apparently had eyes set on national stage from the day he joined politics.
Besides, attempts made to enhance his political base cannot be ignored. These include his campaigning in assembly elections of other states, including Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala Tamil Nadu, Tripura and West Bengal. He was even labelled as party’s “star-campaigner”. Of course, there is a difference in his being considered a “favoured” politician by some but not by all within BJP. The same may be said about appeal of his right-winged religious card within UP and other parts of India.
At the same time, Yogi is not as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Amit Shah is assumed to be. Shah has even been considered as Modi’s right-hand. Till not too long ago, his stepping into Modi’s shoes to lead India as prime minister was considered an unwritten rule. Past few days have witnessed circulation of some negative news about their relations. Shah was quoted by Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik as having said “he” (apparently Modi) “had lost his mind.” Subsequently, he withdrew his remark saying that Shah didn’t comment on Modi. Shah is not at all keen on any such factor disturbing his ties with Modi. They have shared a good political understanding from their common home state, Gujarat. Besides, he has also been an active campaigner during several states’ assembly polls. Prior to taking charge as Union Home Minister, Shah served as BJP president from 2014 – 19. From 2014, he has been chairperson of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Yogi can claim credit for being a parliamentarian for around twice the period than Shah. However, Shah’s quick rise on national front within less a decade places him ahead of Yogi in a possible race for prime ministerial berth.
Yogi may not have been appointed as UP chief minister in 2017 if Modi was not heading national government. BJP’s return in power in 2017 in UP after around 15 years rested primarily on Modi’s political cards and weak strategies of BJP’s rival parties. Though BJP won 312 seats in 403-member UP assembly, it secured only 39.67% votes. Its key rivals SP and BSP won 47 and 19 seats, respectively. While 21.82% votes favoured SP, 22.23% – BSP. In a number of seats, votes won by BSP and SP exceeded those won by BJP by more than 20,000. This reality apparently prompted SP and BSP to align to contest 2019 parliamentary elections. While BJP retained its lead, in 2019 it won 62 seats, nine lesser than it had secured in 2014. The BSP won 10 seats, SP-five and the Congress only one. Undeniably, BJP’s performance in coming polls cannot be de-linked from strategies exercised by its rivals.
The role of Yogi’s own political rivals cannot also be ignored. Notwithstanding political significance of Yogi’s religious (communal) card, it is not much different from that of Shah. In fact, religious/communal card, negative impact of Covid-wave, farmers’ agitation, inflation and similar issues place most key BJP members in the same dock for voters. Besides, Covid-panic and economic grievances have pushed Yogi’s religious-shows to the backburner in general.
At present, a few key legislators’ resignation from BJP to join SP is perhaps just a warning signal for Yogi. It certainly provides ample reason for some party members to question his credentials and perhaps even choose to ruffle a few more anti-Yogi cards. Irrespective of cards exercised by rival parties, political storm within BJP’s own camp is likely to be quite testing for Yogi in UP-polls. Intra-party politicking within BJP may create political problems for Yogi in UP and hamper his future plans. The message is simple. Within BJP, all party members are apparently not too comfortable at the idea of Yogi gaining stronger ground within UP and at national level. They’d rather strike at it before it is too late and spells danger signals for their own ambitions!
Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).