Uttar Pradesh: Can the two Deputy CMs rein in the Yogi?

The lobbying for the chief minister’s post was so intense that two serious contenders, Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma have both been made Deputy Chief Ministers

Photo of Yogi Adityanath courtesy: Twitter
Photo of Yogi Adityanath courtesy: Twitter

NH Political Bureau

The day, the venue, the time was fixed for the Swayamvar but unlike most such political events, the suspense was kept alive till the very last moment. The BJP finally ended the suspense on Saturday when it announced that the firebrand leader Yogi Adityanath would be the party’s nominee to head the most populous state in the country.

The race to become Uttar Pradesh’s next Chief Minister, though, was quite intense. As it entered the final lap, about half a dozen contenders were in the reckoning for the coveted post besides Adityanath—BJP state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya, Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma, Union Minister of State for Telecom and Railways, Manoj Sinha and even two former CMs of the state, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh.

With so many contenders eyeing the coveted post, Kalyan Singh’s name was being popped up as a “compromise candidate” so that it would put an end to the intense lobbying. However, though he was the BJP’s first CM of Uttar Pradesh in 1991 and held the post for two terms—apart from belonging to the backward Lodh community, age was not on his side. Sources say that was apparently the reason too for the 83-year-old Singh not getting a Cabinet berth in the Modi government in 2014.

Rajnath Singh—also a former CM, was apparently not keen to take over the state mantle. Though he belongs to the Thakur community, a high caste, that didn’t really matter as his stature overrode all such considerations. Sources said that there were two reasons for Singh not being keen on the post—he saw a possible shift to Lucknow as a ‘demotion’. Technically, as things stand now, he has been officially made the number two in the Narendra Modi government. That is, whenever, PM Modi travels overseas, Rajnath heads the government. The second reason being that he sees his entry to state politics being a hurdle to his son, Pankaj Singh’s political ambitions. Pankaj, who has been elected from Noida in the recent election, is also a BJP general secretary for Uttar Pradesh. Rajnath becoming the CM could have blocked Pankaj’s chances of possibly becoming a minister in the new state government.

Keshav Prasad Maurya was considered the main contender to the post as he was said to have played a major role in the BJP getting 71 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, and had exhibited his organisational skills this time around too in the just concluded Assembly polls as the BJP’s state president. A ‘chaiwalla’ himself—having worked in tea stalls during his childhood—akin to PM Modi’s narrative, Maurya also was seen as a prominent OBC face of the BJP in the state. When BJP chief Amit Shah said that he left the “responsibility to Keshav” to choose the chief minister, it was interpreted as a message that he was out of the reckoning. While the 47-year-old Maurya, who represents Phulpur in the Lok Sabha, would be disappointed to settle for one of two deputy chief ministers, he has no option but to grin and bear it for now.

Manoj Sinha, the Union Minister of State for Communications (Independent Charge) and Railways, may be considered as the runner-up to Yogi Adityanath. A product of Banaras Hindu University, his closeness to both PM Modi and Shah, and, his wide experience in party affairs—apart from his performance as Minister—apparently went in his favour. However, what perhaps may have gone against him was him belonging to the high caste of Bhumihar, which doesn’t have a significant presence in UP. When Sinha, who on Saturday was in Varanasi instead of being in Lucknow—where the BJP legislators were meeting to elect the CM—was returning to Delhi, gave a clear indication of him being out of the race.

While Lucknow Mayor and BJP’s national vice president Dinesh Sharma’s name did pop up regularly as a contender, sources say that Sharma’s name was seen for the deputy CM’s post. He is considered to be close to PM Modi and continues to be in-charge of Gujarat BJP. Also being a Brahmin, who constitute 10% of the population, BJP brass could not possibly ignore him and has made him one of the two deputy chief ministers.

The 45-year-old Thakur from Garhwal, Yogi Adityanath, has never hidden his CM ambitions. In fact, he is said to have been peeved with the party leadership for not having projected him as the CM face in the just-concluded elections.

Fearing his rebellion, it was reported that a helicopter was provided for him exclusively for his campaigning. The five-time Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur and the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple, is considered to be very influential in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Given that, if not made the CM, a possible rebellion by Adityanath in 2019, was a risk that the BJP top brass couldn’t afford to take. Never shy of controversies, he has been a very polarising figure and is said to have sway over all castes in the region. Something the Modi-Shah combine sees to be critical for 2019?

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