For close to three decades now, Uttar Pradesh politics has moved into the domain of backward classes and Dalits’ aspirations. Ever since reservation for the backward castes as espoused by the Mandal Commission was implemented in 1990, deep fissures had developed in the Hindu community which was badly divided over this issue.
The emergence of the Ayodhya Ram temple issue managed to consolidate this community for a brief period which saw the formation of a Bharatiya Janata Party government under the chief ministership of Kalyan Singh in 1991. However, the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya in 1992 saw an irreversible twist in the state’s political horizon, leading to the emergence of fractured electoral verdicts in subsequent elections.
Even though since 2007 single-party governments are being formed in the state, the supremacy of backwards and Dalit political leadership in Uttar Pradesh is unshakeable. So much so that even the BJP, which by popular perception represented the aspirations and interests of the so-called upper castes, has been forced to cast away this perception and join the prevailing caste-driven politics.
The appointment of Keshav Prasad Maurya, a little-known backward caste leader from Kaushambi near Allahabad, is the latest example of this turn. The party in the state had been headed by Laxmikant Bajpai of Meerut since 2012, and his tenure had ended in 2015. After a prolonged procrastination, the party leadership chose Maurya for this post, even though nearly half a dozen names had been making the round for the last several months.
Maurya may be little known in Lucknow but he is fairly popular in areas around Allahabad for his firebrand Hinduttva-drive
n activities. He has been associated with several community programmes and played an aggressive role in matters concerning the community. He may be considered little on political manoeuvring but it is more than made up by his grassroots-level connect with community and religious activists.
He is considered good in crowd management, generating excitement in small towns and villages with his fiery speeches and management of election campaign related logistics. Needless to say these are characteristics much required for the 2017 Assembly election. In fact the BJP won a record number of seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha election mainly on the strength of tight logistics and campaign management. It won’t be off the mark to say that the BJP national leadership has chosen Maurya for precisely these qualities. His coming from a backward caste only added to the qualification.
Incidentally, among all the names in the reckoning for the state president’s post were of comparatively more well-known politicians who were believed to have a control over sections of party office-bearers and workers. Their grassroots-level connect had not been tested – either in 2012 or in 2014.
Party’s national president Amit Shah oversaw the 2014 campaign by through his trusted leaders in UP, and it was followed by Sunil Bansal being appointed general secretary in June 2014. Again, this was giving precedence to organisational capability rather than political outreach.
There is a popular saying among politicians that politics is not the domain of professionals – because politics is done “by heart” whereas professionals work “by head.” In fact certain leaders of most parties react very strongly whenever the question of roping in of professionals for political success is raised (in the state Congress, the lukewarm response being received by professional strategist Prashant Kishore is an example.)
For such politicians, the appointment of Maurya is an indication of changing times. One may be a good human being, a nice and popular person, a networked leader, a regional strongman or a confidante of a political heavyweight, but lack of grassroots management skills is not going to help win elections any more.
Laxmikant Bajpai was a very active and visible BJP leader as he led several campaigns in Lucknow and other cities against the state government. But his connect with small town and village level workers had not been strong enough. He was aggressive but in control of his emotions while speaking in public. His demeanour has always been of an old school politician. He was famous for driving around on his scooter before he became the state party president, and, equally famously, he drove away on the pillion of a scooter from the state BJP head office in Lucknow after Maurya took over.
In contrast, Maurya is known to represent a rags-to-riches story, typical of countless small town politicians in India. He is now a businessman and entrepreneur, and because of his aggressive brand of politics, has several cases under different sections slapped against him. However, it must be remembered that such cases are slapped against a vast majority of politicians when they are leading protest rallies etc.
And even the present Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan has said that it is a “dangerous” trend to raise questions about legitimacy of even the ‘entrepreneurial wealth of self-made people.’
Thus confident and comfortable, Maurya is all set to begin his innings. His says his mission is to ensure that the BJP wins more than 250 seats in the 2017 Assembly election. He has the resources, the people, the high command blessings and the caste factor going for him.
The only doubt is – if caste politics is going to be the match-winner, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party started their innings quite some time ago. Will the people choose the BJP for a factor that is already being successfully used by these two parties?
The columnist has worked with Times of India, Hindustan Times & Dainik Bhaskar group.