LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — The much-awaited expansion of Yogi Adityanath ministry happened on Sunday, about five months before the State goes to vote in February-March with the induction of seven new faces. Significantly, none of them is a Yadav. Jats have also been ignored.
Those making it to the coveted list included Jitin Prasada, a Brahmin turncoat from the Congress who is likely to be a cabinet minister. Others who were sworn-in at the Raj Bhawan in Lucknow were: Sangeeta Bind (OBC), Chhatrapal Gangwar (OBC), Dharamvir Prajapati (OBC), Dinesh Khatik, Paltu Ram (both SCs), and Sanjeev Gond representing Scheduled Tribe.
All of them are old loyalists of the party.
A name missing from the list is that of Sanjay Nishad (OBC) but knowledgeable sources said he was likely to be made a member of the legislative council.
The similarity between the UP and the Centre cabinet expansion in July, when seven MPs from UP were inducted, clearly reveals the ruling party’s caste-based poll strategy for the state. It overwhelmingly hinges on OBCs but also gives importance to Dalits.
Like in Lucknow, the BJP’s thrust was on OBC and Scheduled Castes (SCs) at the Centre too. Of the six new faces—BL Verma, Pankaj Chaudhary, SP Singh Baghel, Kaushal Kishore, Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, and Ajay Kumar Mishra—three, including Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal, were OBCs. If Jitin Prasada is the lone Brahmin face in UP, Ajay Kumar Mishra was also the only Brahmin in the Central list.
Given Yadavs loyalty towards the Samajwadi Party, the BJP is focusing on non-Yadav leaders. Of those inducted in the Union council of ministers, Anupriya Patel and Pankaj Chaudhary are Kurmis and BL Verma belongs to the Lodh caste. In the UP list, Bind and Dharamvir Prajapati are non-Yadavs. Chhatrapal Gangwar belongs to a sub-caste of Kurmi.
The BJP’s immediate focus is on winning OBCs while simultaneously pushing its religious agenda to emotionally connect with voters. Caste equations took the centre stage after three OBC MPs were inducted into the Union cabinet. After increasing their representations in the Central and state ministries, the party has reached out to backward class voters by holding OBC conventions at Ayodhya, Varanasi, and Mathura.
Narendra Kashyap, president of BJP’s OBC Morcha, is reported to have explained that to get over 350 out of 403 seats in the 2022 elections, the party was trying to reach out to all the communities, including OBCs, which have supported the BJP in the past.
The party leadership is not stopping at that and is going all out to get OBC votes. The death of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was also being used to attract OBC votes with ‘asthi kalash yatra’ — procession with urns containing the departed leader’s ashes. Singh who passed away on August 21 was a tall Lodh leader. After immersion of his ashes in the Ganga at Narora’s Basi Ghat, the remaining ashes were immersed at Kashi, Haridwar, and in Saryu at Ayodhya. During the yatra, the former chief minister was projected as an OBC leader and a Hindutva icon.
It is because of the growing importance of OBCs, a category to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi also belongs, that Anupriya Patel demanded a separate ministry for them. “We have demanded a ministry for OBCs on the lines of ministry for minorities,” Patel told the party workers on the 72nd birth anniversary of Sonelal Patel, her father, and Apna Dal’s founder.
The BJP is heavily tilted towards the OBCs, and already has Swatantra Dev Singh, a well-known OBC leader, as its state president, and Keshav Prasad Maurya as Deputy Chief Minister. Baby Rani Maurya, another prominent OBC face from UP who was Uttarakhand Governor, was recently appointed the BJP’s national vice-president.