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This article has been co-authored by Politicalbaba and Subhash Chandra.
As per press reports, BJP may project Rajnath Singh as the face of party campaign in Uttar Pradesh. This is different from being named the CM candidate. Given the fractious nature of UP politics and the limited caste appeal of both Mayawati and Mulayam, BJP is not expected to announce a Chief Ministerial candidate as of now.
Amit Shah’s thinking is to float Rajnath’s name as face of the campaign and take a decision whether to move him into position of CM candidate on the basis of response to the campaign. This is very similar to Rajnath’s strategy with Narendra Modi in 2013. Amit Shah’s primary focus will be to note the levels of alienation amongst Brahmin and Dalit voters and the gains amongst Rajput Community. If the net is positive Rajnath will be announced as the CM candidate later this year.
Rajnath Singh has the credentials to lead the campaign being no. 2 in the Modi cabinet. He is unwilling to go back to state politics though. However, Modi and Shah seem to be coaxing him to accept the position given the paucity of good candidates in the State unit. There is no confirmation on the timing of the announcement though.
What are the Pros and Cons of this likely move.
1. Settles the CM debate for the time being
Will BJP announce a CM candidate? If yes, who should it be – Smriti or Varun or Mahesh Sharma or Uma or Adityanath. Which caste he / she should belong to? Should it adopt a Bihar type strategy or Assam type? All this was creating a lot of confusion amongst BJP supporters and even top leadership.
With many aspirants for top job and strategists (Amit Shah & OP Mathur) indicating no domestic leader has a state wide appeal, this compromise announcement of Chief of Campaign Committee and not a CM candidate suits well BJP’s strategy.
2. Helps to fight factionalism
As Rajnath has the tallest stature amongst state BJP leaders and the unwavering support of both Modi and Shah, the decision helps to unify cadre and prevent factionalism. One of the biggest fear of BJP was rebellion and non-cooperation of if one of the state leaders was announced as CM candidate.
Now different responsibilities based on regions (western /central /eastern) or strategy (selling development agenda / forming caste alliances / polarizing Hindu votes) will be given to different leaders. They are expected to give their 100% as all of them still have a chance to become CM if they perform well and get many seats for the party.
3. Satisfied the top 2 anchor segments of BJP – OBCs and Upper castes (Rajputs)
2/3rd of BJP’s voters belong to Other Backward Castes (excluding Yadavs) and Upper Castes. These two communities account for 50% of population. With Maurya as State President and Rajnath as Campaign Face, this would please most of the OBCs and Rajputs. This is also likely to please many urban voters across all caste group.
BJP Vote Bank
4. Leader matches upto the stature of Mayawati and Mulayam
One of the biggest issues with BJP CM candidates in the race was that they didn’t possess the charisma of Maya-Mulayam and lacked administrative experience. Rajnath doesn’t suffer from these shortcomings. Additionally he has a clean image vis-a-vis competitors, both of whom are facing disproportionate asset cases against them. Akhilesh Yadav in turn is suffering from high anti-incumbency.
5. Negates Samajwadi Party’s Rajput card
Rajputs account for 7% of state population. SP has in the last few polls managed to draw a section of Rajput votes (17%). This decision will to a large extent neutralize the attempt by SP to woo Rajput votes by inducting Amar Singh in the party and offering him a Rajya Sabha seat. Traditionally 51% Rajputs have voted for BJP.
Voting pattern of Rajputs
1. Upset Brahmins and Dalits
At a time when Prashant Kishor and Mayawati are all out to woo Brahmins (9% of population), this decision may irk the community. There is a tug of war over superiority amongst upper castes in the Hindi heartland between Brahmins and Rajputs for long.
If Congress projects a Brahmin CM candidate or BSP announces sops including reservations for economically backward, Brahmins could shift their allegiance towards BSP or a likely BSP-Congress combine.
In the last four elections, 52% of Brahmins have voted for BJP, 19% for Congress and 12% for BSP.
BJP competed well for the non-Jatav Dalit vote in 2014. However, the appointment of Rajnath could push many of these voters into the arms of the Bahujan Samaj party for two reasons – a. Mayawati will be seen as closer to their castes and b. Mayawati is seen as a potential winner in the 2017 election
2. Rajnath not seen as a development icon
Rajnath who handles the home ministry not seen as a development icon and is likely to end up projecting BJP as a caste based party instead of a development oriented party which gave them great success in 2014.
3. Shielding Modi from the outset
Skeptics may see it as a defensive strategy, trying to protect Modi from the start. With initial opinion polls, suggesting Maya victory, Rajnath is being pushed to the fore front. If BJP wins, party can attribute it to Modi factor while in case of loss, Rajnath can be made a scapegoat.
4. Not a mass leader & out of state politics for more than a decade
Rajnath is not considered a mass leader. He came into prominence in the state after Kalyan Singh was removed for anti-party activities. In fact, the party’s decline in the state happened under his leadership. Further, being the crucial minister for Home, it is likely that Rajnath will not be able to devote as much time as would be needed for a hectic campaign. Also, any significant events of violence while he is away campaigning could damage the image of both the Central Govt and the BJP campaign in UP
5. Upsets the “Other” Gandhi family
The move has the potential of upsetting the mother-son duo of Maneka-Varun. Varun was ahead of other leaders in popularity in an ETV poll and he has openly showed his intentions to lead the party. The news already seems to have upset Maneka who has publicly taken on the Environment Minister on animal culling issue.
To sum up, the decision to announce Rajnath as main face of BJP campaign in UP has points for as well as against. Amit Shah will constantly track the impact of this decision over the next few months. Amit Shah is likely to announce Rajnath as the CM candidate for UP if polls show that the BJP is likely to retain most of its broad coalition of upper castes, non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalits. In the end the vote retention is crucial for the BJP to repeat the miracle of 2014. Over to the Opinion Polls now!