Only a few months back, all was well for the powerful Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. Backed by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Yogi seemed unstoppable and ready to return to power. Over the past few days, things have begun to turn tricky. A senior UP BJP leader, who only a few days back sounded amply confident, now feels that it could be a "touch and go" scenario. He is predicting a maximum number of 210 seats for his party.
If his scepticism comes true, this will be a massive come down for the party, which returned to power with a huge majority in 2017- bagging 312 of the 403 Assembly seats. Commenting on the present scenario, when ministers and MLAs are quitting BJP, Girish Chandra Tripathi, Chairman UP State Council for Higher Education and former Vice-Chancellor, BHU remarked: "Don't do unto others what you don't like being done to you." Far away from politics, Prof. Tripathi however, feels that "if someone is saying something, one should hear the person out."
"We were much ahead. But now we need to fight it out," said a senior saffron leader. While the Brahmins were apparently upset with the ruling administration, the BJP was confident of countering the crisis with the support of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), which include non-Jatavs and non-Yadavs.
In the last 48 hours, a host of OBC leaders including a minister, SP Maurya, former minister, Dara Singh Chauhan and four MLAs Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati, Bhagwati Sagar and Vinay Shakya have quit the party and could be joining Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party.
Maurya claimed that his exit would cause an "earthquake" for the BJP. Nearly 24 hours after his exit an arrest warrant has been issued against Maurya over a hate speech he made in 2014.
Earthquake or not, BJP insiders felt that the exit of the OBC leaders would hit the party hard in the coming polls. Maurya is a powerful OBC leader and a five-time MLA. He joined the BJP in 2016 after quitting Bahujan Samaj Party. His daughter Sanghmitra Maurya is a BJP MP from Badaun Lok Sabha Constituency. In 2017, BJP, following its alliances with smaller backward parties had virtually garnered a majority of the OBC votes. With eight per cent, Maurya's community incidentally is the third biggest OBC in the state. Therefore, with Maurya and others exit, this could deliver a major blow to BJP's OBC vote bank.
Sources said that on December 25, some of the top Brahmin BJP leaders met Union Minister and overall in-charge of state elections, Dharmendra Pradhan alleged that Yogi being a Rajput was being perceived as "anti-Brahmin." They also demanded that "more tickets" should be given to Brahmin candidates. While Brahmins are supposed to be about 12 per cent of the state's population, Rajputs are nearly eight per cent. It may be recalled that SP not only indicated that it would give an "adequate" number of tickets to Brahmin but also promised to restore the public holiday to commemorate Parashuram and build a "magnificent" statute of his. Besides the Brahmin, OBC crisis, the BJP was also apprehending consolidation of the Muslim votes in favour of SP.
Taking. a cue from the West Bengal, the state's nearly 17 per cent of the Muslim population could "now vote together in SP's favour," a senior BJP leader feared.
Besides the tremor in the caste and community cauldron, some of the BJP leaders felt that after the second COVID wave, the party's core vote bank--the middle class and traders have been drifting away from the party. "We are talking about Hindutva while Akhilesh is focusing more on economic issues. We should realise that following price rise, inflation, unemployment, the middle class is slipping away," the leader said. He then grimly added that, "the relatives of the COVID victims in the state might not even return to us."
The farmers' agitation and RLD's alliance with the SP could also become a major cause of concern for the BJP in western UP. The western UP has. a major presence of Dalits, Muslims, Jats and OBCs. In eastern UP, the Brahmin, OBC issues continue to haunt the party.
Even as the BJP seemed to be on the backfoot at this juncture, the saffron titan, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi leading the charge could be the party's trump card. As BJP's saviour, Modi is expected to rally in "every strategic location" across the state. Union Home Minister, Amit Shah has also been working round the clock and have been holding core group meetings.
Some of the party leaders hope regardless of the apparent trouble, the religious polarisation could finally save the day for the BJP. "Who can be more bhagwa than Modi," he said indicating that "Brahmins are all about Bhagwa and who is a better and bigger Hindu leader than Modi Ji." BJP was also hoping that All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul(AIMIM) leader, Asaduddin Owaisi's rhetorics could also help BJP's cause. Recently The Hindu quoted him saying: If the minorities want to remain politically relevant, they will have to discard political secularism." Owaisi criticised Congress, BJP and SP for their approach towards Muslims. BJP is hoping that if Owaisi "magic works," it would eventually benefit the lotus brigade.