It is well known that Smriti Irani had an almost solo run at HRD relegating her deputy, minister of state – HRD, Ram Shankar Katheria into the oblivion, at least as far as decision making was concerned. She was the face, brain and implementer of the policies and systems while he was confined to obscurity and was not sure of his role in the ministry.
It seems, post the cabinet expansion and reshuffle, things are set to change. For one thing, BJP is averse to declare the chief minister candidate for the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. And, there is a technical reason. In fact, post debacle in Bihar and win in Assam, it appears BJP’s backroom boys had a good brainstorming session. The population of Assam is homogenous to a large extent, making it a good decision to project a face as the next leader. At the same time, corporate type of handling elections in Bihar, where the local leaders have been left to implement the ideas from the centre, making their leadership irrelevant in the eyes of party cadre. Contrary to these two elections was another win BJP tasted, albeit in the immediate aftermath of the victory in 2014 general elections; and that was in the state of Maharashtra.
The poser before BJP for UP elections was in fact to devise the strategy. Whether to declare CM candidate or not? Let us discuss what happens if BJP declares the candidate. The first impact of declaring one person is in a way informing all other candidates that the race is over. So, all losers will work half-hearted. Else, there shall be a person who has pan-UP acceptance in the party. In Bihar, at least they had Sushil Modi who could command the respect of majority, across the state. In UP, every leader who aspires to rule as chief minister could mobilise a vote share not more than five percent of total voters. With its variance in culture, customs and caste politics Uttar Pradesh election is unique in its own class. Hence, the reason why BJP choose not to declare single candidate, despite this decision is a change from its Assam strategy.
But, BJP has taken lessons from Bihar to the heart. BJP has already started running the show through local leaders, supported by the high command. And BJP is trying to neutralise two major opponents in the elections, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. BJP is trying to contest elections the way it did in Maharashtra, where all local leaders were supported by the centre.
Entire political strategy of SP revolves around caste politics, for they prevented Akhilesh from doing his job for his entire tenure. Had they allowed Akhilesh Yadav to work on his own, he would have evolved into a bigger force in the future, but all his powerful father did was to break the confidence of his son, who was much touted as foreign educated youth icon. But, BSP has two advantages – one is the core vote base of Dalits and the anti-incumbency factor against the current state government. In 2014, BJP represented the anti-incumbency fury, but even BJP feels much steam was vented out in the last two years.
In the recent past BSP had experienced two major resignations. Two strong and old leaders have moved out of the party. First it was Swamy Prasad Maurya’s resignation that was followed by the resignation of RK Chaudhary. Grape vine indicates that Maurya was in touch with BJP and wanted BJP to declare him to be the party’s face for the upcoming elections, a precondition to join the party. But, he may have to forego his conditions, given the current state of the BJP’s dilemma of abundance of candidates with none guaranteeing the victory. Chaudhary, who supported Mulayam Singh earlier may have his future a bit clearer than Maurya.
However, by inducting more Dalits into the union cabinet BJP signalled that it is going to fight BSP till the end. Ramdas Athavale, one of the new ministers may have to serve the interests of BJP in two states, i.e., in UP and of course, Maharashtra. His induction though has more to do with the BMC elections, also slated for next year, where BJP may part ways with Shiv Sena.
Recently SP was on a recruitment mission by organising ‘Ghar Wapsi’ to both Amar Singh and Beni Prasad Verma. Long back SP gauged the effect of Nitish Kumar in attracting Kurmi voters and play a spoil sport in their plans and the result was the friend-turned foe-turned friend-turned foe Verma coming to support Netaji. Verma is expected to prevent any split in the Kurmi votes to the SP. Here, BJP played its cards very well by inducting the young Anupriya Patel. Anupriya was a successful politician in her own league, who not only snatched the political legacy of her father – from none other than her mother, but established (may be expanded is a correct word) her constituency of voters, who are mostly Kurmis. The induction of Anupriya is in fact a sort of burdening her with the responsibility to work for the party in the coming elections. In all probability, if BJP makes it in UP, Anupriya can reckon to land in a good portfolio, as long as she adheres to the party’s style of functioning. This, she shall do while discharging her responsibilities as Union Minister of State as well.
Amar Singh, who resides in the soft heart of hardest politician Mulayam Singh is expected to mobilise Thakurs into the party fold. But, BJP is confident that its own Thakur representatives Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som (who is trying hard to become Yogi of western UP) will prevail over the community.
It is all over in the media that Yogi is now pushing himself for the post of chief minister and probably is not averse to exercise his clout of Saffron lobby of Sadhvis and Maharajs. Perhaps, to indicate his determination, he had refused to become a cabinet minister. On the other hand, his refusal might be considering how he would be performing as Union minister may expose his weak side to the public hurting his chances of donning the chief minister mantle. One thing uncharacteristic in the recent behaviour of Yogi was his ‘seeking’ the acceptance by the high command to become CM candidate. No, it was not Yogi’s idea for he always was a king in and around Gorakhpur and will remain in future also. The burdens that come with the administration are simply not cherished by the recluse that he is. He is comfortable in the Saffron robes and in the company of seers of Gorakhmutt. Someone close to him may be inciting him to throw his hat into the ring and claim the position, but in the long run it would only end spoiling his equation with both the party and RSS. But, BJP respects him much for what he is not a thing to doubt.
Then there are Mahendra Singh and Mahesh Sharma, both from RSS and so will work for the party irrespective of their future.
Now, is the possible hero of BJP’s future game plan, Ram Shankar Katheria. If people considered change in portfolio of Smriti Irani as demotion, here is the real one. Katheria was dropped from the cabinet! And this man is not crying foul.
In UP, this time BJP would be credited for offering a set of credible Dalit leaders to choose for the community and given their performance in 2014, it is a good strategy. Uncommon to the regular practice of using Dalit leaders only for their vote pulling ability, the share of Dalit ministers in the union cabinet signals a shift in the mind set towards ‘inclusive politics’.
And here Ram Shankar Katheria would be needing his former boss to support him in his race for the coveted post. As a former pracharak of RSS, promoting him is something that would enhance the image of RSS even in other states, and may help shed its current image of ‘Brahminical’ organisation.
Smriti Irani, moved to Textiles had a critical fabric to work upon. Her role in the coming elections would demand her to travel a lot transforming her into a leaner Smriti Irani. Though she might be the choice of Modi to lead the election campaign, Modi cannot afford to let her lead. RSS will object to her becoming the face of the party given her not so smooth relations with the parent organisation. And then, making her the face will eliminate ‘local’ flavour and is a strong negative factor.
However, the utility of Smriti Irani to the party is mostly governed by the schemes of Prashant Kishor, who was trying to get a credible face to lead the Congress party. Apparently Sheila Dixit is not in her best of her health to take the leadership, though after initial denial she pledged to take ‘any responsibility’ that the party thrusts on her. Nevertheless, she will not lead the party fearing the cases of corruption would become point of national discussions, once again.
That leaves Priyanka Gandhi, who may have to work hard in the dust that covers the terrain of Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka Gandhi, to her credit has two advantages over any other person from Congress. First, she is better with words and has a certain connectivity that she inherited from her Grandma. The other one is the quintessential glamour that she brings with her presence. She could prove costly to SP, which may again try to cash in on the ‘Young’ Yadav. Priyanka is young and inspires the regular Congress worker, who otherwise had already became reclusive. Only negative in Priyanka (keeping Robby aside for a while) is her ‘intrinsic’ abhorrence to power and politics. After witnessing two assassinations (of which her father’s had affected her more), she gave up politics, even when her mother was forced by the coterie to kick old and ailing Sitaram Kesari and seize the power – of the party and the government. Had she wanted, Priyanka could have entered politics post Narasimha Rao era, but she choose otherwise. Even her mother was supportive of her decision and wanted Rahul to take up the charge. The fact that he failed miserably and there were calls for Priyanka to assume charge only indicate her acceptance in the constituency of Congress voters, however small they were in numbers. The purported entry of Priyanka may promote Congress’ position in the elections to reckon.
Here, BJP has the greatest responsibility for Smriti Irani to shoulder. She had to counterbalance the effect of Priyanka Gandhi (Wadra? Haha!), not only by her articulation, but even by glamour quotient. Though feminists may now suddenly support Smriti Irani, whom otherwise they troll day in and day out, in politics – glamour has always played a role and so we had Hema Malini as MP, and Nagma (though failed in Bollywood) as a campaigner. The combination of Irani and Katheria is going to be loaded by the party to greater extent and it is expected from both of them to work in tandem to produce fruitful results. If BJP forms government in UP, perhaps it will bring rewarding days or years to this combination. And I advise Smriti against using twitter to settle political accounts, especially in UP.
I hope the trinity of Smriti, Anupriya and Priyanka would inspire Mulayam Singh to bring another lady (not Jaya Prada again) to represent Samajwadi Party, as Amar Singh, a man with considerable authority on glamourous politics, is back home.
That leaves Mayawati to fight on her own, even without her regular leaders to rely on her trusted lieutenant Satish Mishra. If the allegations of Maurya and Chaudhary are even fractionally correct, she may even sell party positions. Well, she is a unique leader but for the first time in the last decade, she had to fight hard without a clear opponent to fight with.
All in all, the elections are going to be a colourful event full of theatrics and hysterics, allegations and counter allegations. Hope the heat generated by the elections keep the voters warm in the winter months.