With the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh barely a month away, the BJP’s efforts to woo OBC votes suffered a major setback with the exit of state Cabinet minister Swami Prasad Maurya, which is likely to be followed by over a dozen MLAs, as claimed by the long-time OBC leader who jumped the ship to the Samajwadi Party.
While Maurya didn’t officially confirm joining the Samajwadi Party on Tuesday, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav tweeted a photo of him welcoming the OBC leader into the party. Maurya was quoted by ANI as saying on Wednesday that he will join the SP on January 14.
Maurya’s exit from the BJP is also likely to help the Opposition’s campaign that Yogi Adityanath government is a “pro-upper caste” regime. It might strengthen the charge that the BJP uses backward class votes only to come to power, and then ignores them, despite the OBCs playing a crucial role in Modi’s emphatic win at the Centre in 2014.
The major development topped the agenda at the high-level party meeting in Delhi on Tuesday which was called to discuss the poll strategy and candidate names. Chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the meeting saw the presence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath along with Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, BJP state chief Swatantra Dev Singh, apart from other senior leaders.
As Maurya’s exit from the party is feared to be followed by several MLAs switching sides to the Opposition, mainly the Samajwadi Party, the party has been forced to rethink on the candidate names decided for each constituency.
The Indian Express quoted party leaders saying that the BJP would have to rework its campaign for the given Maurya’s exit and the message it sends to the politically significant OBC communities. The party is also aware of the gains the Samajwadi Party hopes to make from Maurya’s exit. The party has been trying to expand its loyal Muslim-Yadav vote bank to include non-Yadav OBCs, who are estimated to constitute over 35% of the electorate.
State BJP leaders have, however, downplayed the development, claiming that Maurya was a fence-sitter for long and was sulking because the party had spurned his demand for a ticket for his son Utkrist. His daughter Sanghamitra Maurya, the BJP MP from Badaun Lok Sabha seat, had earlier backed the demand for an OBC census on the floor of Parliament, breaking away from the party’s stand.
Maurya’s exit have now turned the eyes towards Keshav Prasad Maurya, the BJP’s senior-most OBC leader who is believed to have been upset since 2017 for being made to settle for one of the two deputy CMs in the state.
He has been voicing his displeasure lately, including asserting that the issue of who would be the CM should the BJP return to power was far from being settled. This came despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah making it clear that Adityanath was the face of the BJP state campaign.
On the other hand, the SP’s non-Yadav OBC push earlier got a boost with the entry of Madhuri Verma, an OBC leader and MLA from Behraich; Rakesh Rathore, a lower OBC community leader from the BJP; Shiv Shankar Singh Patel, former minister and BJP MLA from Banda; Congress leader Bal Krishna Patel; and Ram Achal Rajbhar and Lalji Verma who were expelled from the BSP .