Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Gorakhpur, and Lakshmikant Bajpayee, the party’s state unit president, are the new rising stars of the party in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
The soaring profile of the two leaders is being viewed in comparison with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his son Pankaj’s dwindling fortunes in the state politics.
The party’s other political heavyweight, Kalyan Singh, has already retired to the sanctuary of the Raj Bhavan in Jaipur. BJP President Amit Shah recently appointed Adityanath and Bajpayee in-charges for the September 13 byelections to UP's 10 Assembly seats. Union Minister Kalraj Mishra would guide them. According to party sources, Adityanath and Bajpayee are being groomed for the 2017 Assembly polls. Pankaj had sought a ticket for the Noida seat in the forthcoming bypoll. However, he wasn’t just denied a ticket, but adding insult to injury another senior leader Lalji Tandon’s son was offered the party ticket from Lucknow (East) seat -- if only to convey to the father-son duo that the denial of ticket wasn’t part of any plan not to give tickets to children of politicians. Tandon junior had lost the 2012 Assembly elections from that seat by a huge margin to the Samajwadi Party candidate.
This, say insiders, was the real reason for Rajnath’s outburst last week where he publicly questioned the source of rumours of alleged misconduct targeted at his son. Currently, Pankaj is one of the five leaders, including Lok Sabha MP from that seat Mahesh Sharma, to ensure victory of the party on the Noida assembly seat. Party leaders, however, aren’t impressed with the “attitude” Pankaj has shown after the recent events.
Until recently, supporters of Pankaj had started a campaign in his favour on the social media projecting him as the next “youth chief minister of UP”. But Adityanath is being considered a perfect replacement for not only Pankaj but also his father Rajnath. Adityanath, just as Rajnath, is a Thakur. At 42, Adityanath is young enough whose polarising appeal is expected to benefit the party. His recent speech in the Lok Sabha and the consequent media coverage was an effort to build up Adityanath’s national profile.
BJP insiders say Rajnath is paying for having deluded himself into believing that Modi and he formed BJP’s “Jodi Number 1”, just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani did in the 1990s. "But Rajnath isn't a Vajpayee, and Modi not an Advani," said a party source. The attempt to promote Bajpayee and accord Kalraj Mishra due respect is part of the objective to mollify the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh, who might comprise barely 10 per cent of the population but wield influence much larger than their numerical strength. The Brahmins, who eventually voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha, had felt hurt with Rajnath having packed the party organisation in that state with his people.
The party has also taken first few steps to rehabilitate its Bhumihar leader Surya Pratap Shahi. Shahi had found himself out in the cold in the last few years when Rajnath dominated UP BJP. This Brahmin-Thakur-Bhumihar leadership, party strategists believe, would be a potent force as it prepares for the 2017 UP Assembly. UP has eight per cent Thakurs who own half the state’s farmland.
Unfortunately, the BJP has until now largely ignored its new-found support among the Dalits. Several non-Jatav Dalit castes, like Dhobis and Passis, had voted in large numbers for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. But Dalit leaders within the BJP are miffed that the community was yet to get the recognition it deserved in both the Centre and state. The BJP had won all the 17 of UP’s Lok Sabha constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes.
“But the Narendra Modi government has only two Dalits in the council of ministers. Neither is from UP,” said a Dalit leader of the BJP. Minister Thawarchand Gehlot is from Madhya Pradesh, while minister of state Nihalchand Meghwal is from Rajasthan. The Dalit leader said none of the 10 Governors the government recently appointed was a Dalit. He said Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government had four Dalit ministers and appointed three Governors from the Dalit community. UP BJP’s Dalit leaders like Ashok Pradhan and Bijay Sonkar Shastri have felt humiliated in recent months. Pradhan quit the party before the elections, while Shastri was denied a ticket.
But a party leader said its Dalit leadership in UP suffered during the previous dispensation that controlled the reins of the party structure in that state, and its concerns would be accommodated in the months to come.