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UP 2017: What BJP should do and not do

July 19, 2016 12:20 IST

'The BJP should know that simple caste arithmetic may have ceased to follow the basic law of addition.'
'Adding up seemingly distinct vote banks can even cause overall reduction in numbers,' says Sudhir Bisht.

IMAGE: BJP President Amit Shah addresses an election rally in Mau in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: PTI Photo

Two things happened on July 12, and they took the mainstream media by complete surprise. The first was Dr Najma Heptullah, one of the senior-most ministers in the National Democratic Alliance government, tendering her resignation from the Union Cabinet.

The MSM had absolutely no forewarning of this resignation. Just as the MSM had no idea about the resignations of five ministers of state earlier this month following the reshuffle.

Even after so many hours have passed, the MSM has no clue as to why Dr Heptullah resigned. I can say with some degree of speculation that age may not have everything to do in Dr Heptullah's case. She turned 76 in April, and if she has resigned in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's unwritten and unannounced-in-public principle of not keeping a minister over 75 years of age in his Cabinet, Dr Heptullah may have gone from the Cabinet last year itself.

The second thing that happened on July 12 was the coronation of the talented but unsung actor, Raj Babbar, as the president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee. This event also took the media by surprise.

But the reasons for the surprise factors in both cases are different.

Dr Heptullah's resignation coming as a surprise is in line with the prime minister ruling his Cabinet with an iron hand. Cases of leakages and 'sounding out media friends' are very rare. One seldom finds ministers gossiping with their favourite mediapersons nowadays.

Raj Babbar's appointment is a very different issue. The mainstream media has become apathetic about the oldest political party of India. Elections in Uttar Pradesh may be held in January 2017 and it was visible that the UPCC's previous chief, Nirmal Khatri, had done nothing to make his party gain any ground in the state.

I asked a very active Congress grassroot worker in Lucknow some weeks ago about his assessment of Khatri as UPCC chief and he asked, "Woh kaun hai ji? (Who is he?)"

By the way, till 2014, Dr Khatri was a Lok Sabha MP from Faizabad which is not too far away from Lucknow.

That takes me to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh. While the Samajwadi Party will be led by the father-son duo of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, the Bahujan Samaj Party will be led by Behenji, Mayawati.

Thus, the voters in UP have a clear picture in their minds. If the SP wins, the young Akhilesh will again be chief minister and if the BSP wins, it will be Mayawati in the hot seat in Lucknow.

The voters are also clear that the Congress may not be required to project any CM aspirant for even in their wildest dreams they can't think of seeing a Congress chief minister.

The last Congressman to don that mantle was Narain Dutt Tewari in 1989. So the voters know the Congress may end up supporting either the SP or BSP, before or after the elections.

In this regard, the appointment of Sheila Dikshit, the former three-time CM of Delhi, as the Congress' chief ministerial candidate may be just an attempt to revive its Brahmin votebank.

At 78 years of age, the much respected Sheilaji has neither the energy nor the inclination to lead the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. She may at best be the Congress party's wildcard to avert a 4th place finish or at worst may be the scapegoat in the making for the impending Congress failure.

Perhaps she could also be one of the Congress leaders who will be treated with respect by Mayawati, post-elections, for any kind of coalition government.

However, it is the BJP that has kept everything under wraps till now. It hasn't named its CM candidate so far. If the last Lok Sabha elections were any indication then the BJP should be quite buoyed by the idea of forming the next UP government on its own.

It is quite likely its top leadership hasn't been able to finalise any name yet. The caste arithmetic might lead to confusion getting confounded. A Brahmin face or a Kshatriya face to retain the upper caste vote? Or a non-Yadav OBC to try and form the upper caste plus non-Yadav OBC vote bank?

The BJP should know that simple caste arithmetic may have ceased to follow the basic law of addition. Adding up seemingly distinct vote banks can even cause overall reduction in numbers.

My own assessment is that the BJP must do three things to succeed in UP.

The first thing the BJP must do is to give an overall state plan and a district-wise plan of action to the people of UP. Both plans should be in concrete numbers and not motherhood statements like 'good governance' or 'improved law and order situation.'

It could be like the opening of 'x' number of police posts at such and such places. It could also be the revival of factories in Kanpur by December 2020. It shouldn't be in terms of 'so much dole from the central government,' but should be how many new houses in each district will get electricity connections by which date.

So the BJP must give a district-wise or even a block level-wise blueprint for improving the lives of the people of Uttar Pradesh.

The second thing the BJP must do is to immediately announce its intent of division of UP into four states -- Harit Pradesh comprising western UP, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal and the rest of UP.

The BJP should announce the date by which it will pass the resolution on the floor of the state assembly and the date by which it will be passed in Parliament. This is something no other party has done in public and the BJP can get a head start with this. It can sweep all the four regions if it announces the dates in public.

UP is too big to be governed with its present sets of problems as one single unit. The areas that lie in a state of abject poverty never get the attention they deserve from the power centre in Lucknow.

UP needs more high courts and not just a high court bench at places far away from Allahabad, where the high court is currently situated. The people of UP will vote for the BJP if it promises to break the state into four states. People realise that only with the proactive support of the BJP-led Centre can this mission be accomplished.

Before I mention the third thing the BJP must do to win UP, I also want to say two things the BJP must not touch even with a barge pole.

It should not involve its ultra radical fringe group in the elections. No venomous speeches and nothing to do with creating any kind of social divide on religious lines.

And secondly, the BJP should also steer away from making disparaging remarks against the people of Uttar Pradesh. Their leaders, especially those who are not from the state, should be advised that shaming the state for its poverty in a manner that is seen as a taunt will backfire on the BJP.

Ridiculing the young men for their 'aspiration of becoming taxi drivers in Mumbai' is not in good taste. The taxi drivers of eastern UP also contribute to nation-building even when they work in Mumbai. And the BJP's top leadership, especially from outside the state, should stop comparing UP with other states.

The comparison is logical and differences between states are significant, but it also makes the UP voter angry. He has had enough of this public mockery.

Now coming to the third and most important point in the to-do list of the BJP is to persuade Rajnath Singh to spearhead the BJP's campaign in UP.

With elections in India now largely being won or lost in a presidential style, the BJP must name Rajnath Singh as its chief ministerial candidate. By all accounts, Singh, India's home minister, is seen as the tallest leader from Uttar Pradesh. It is evident that Rajnath Singh isn't very keen on losing his secure job at the Centre for an uncertain victory in UP, but the BJP should find a way to persuade him.

Rajnath Singh has been UP's chief minister and even served as education minister under Kalyan Singh. His image is that of a tough man with a soft speech. The nakal-virodhi (anti copying) act that was enforced in the early 1990s earned him many admirers.

Rajnath Singh in the past has been elected from the central-eastern UP assembly constituency of Haidergarh. He has represented the western UP constituency of Ghaziabad in the Lok Sabha and now represents Lucknow in the current Lok Sabha. He was born in Chandauli district that is adjacent to the holy city of Varanasi.

This means that he is a man who has followership and admirers all across Uttar Pradesh. The voters know him as well as they know Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav. Rajnath Singh has a first class master's degree in physics and has been an assistant professor in Mirzapur, the carpet town of Uttar Pradesh. This fact can be highlighted to impress the young educated voters of UP.

On the political front, as Rajnath Singh has been the BJP president for two terms, he commands respect from all party cadres. With such a tall leader, the BJP must project him as its chief ministerial candidate, even if it means forcing the decision on him.

I can feel the fear in Rajnath Singh's mind. What would happen if the BJP loses badly? Well, he can still continue to be the home minister of India. Being a minister may not always be a reward for winning an election, but should rather be considered an opportunity to serve in an assignment based upon one's potential.

His second fear could be that if the BJP wins and he does become UP CM, he may be ignored if ever a vacancy arises for the top post at the Centre. My view is that the possibility of such an occurrence is remote. He is just 11 months younger than Modi and they will both retire at about the same time, upon reaching the age of 75 of course.

Sudhir Bisht writes from New Delhi and tweets at @sudhir_bisht

Sudhir Bisht