Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party legislature party is likely to meet in Lucknow on March 16 to decide who would be the next chief minister of the key Hindi heartland state, days after the party’s landslide victory.
The saffron party is set to return to power in the state after a decade-and-a-half.
The party’s central observers, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, would be present at the meeting.
The secretary of the Parliamentary Board and Union Minister J P Nadda had said after its meeting on Sunday that BJP chief Amit Shah has been authorised to choose the next chief minister. He said the central observers would consult the MLAs and report to Shah, who will take the final decision.
The names of several probables, including Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who had led the BJP government in the state in the past, were doing the rounds at the state party office.
Though Singh, 65, is still regarded as a good choice for the key post given his vast experience and popularity, he appears reluctant about shifting back to state politics.
Moreover, with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar having moved over to Goa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not want to lose another senior member of his cabinet.
“Ram, Ram,” was Singh’s response to a journalist’s query as to whether he was a contender for the chief minister’s post, remark that many interpreted as showing his unwillingness to return to UP politics.
Another name doing the rounds is that of Manoj Sinha, 57, the minister of state for Railways. An upper caste Bhumihar, he belongs to Poorvanchal, the area which is in the focus of the BJP. Prime Minister Modi’s Varanasi constituency is also part of Poorvanchal.
Regarded as a dedicated and quiet worker, he is considered close to the top party leadership and many feel he has a fair chance if the party decides against showing preference for an OBC face.
A large number of non-Yadav backward castes voted for BJP in the assembly election and the party's state unit president Keshav Prasad Maurya, an OBC, is a top contender for chief ministership.
After steering the party to a big win, 47-year-old Maurya has grown in stature. He is being credited with rallying the non-Yadav OBC voters behind the party.
When asked whether he was a contender for chief minister’s post, Maurya said, “Speaking on this is beyond my jurisdiction.”
On whether the CM should be chosen from among the newly elected MLAs or even a sitting MP could be appointed, he said, “The decision will be taken by the BJP’s Parliamentary Board.”
Maurya, on being asked if the party’s government will pursue construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, he said, “All promises made in Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra (party’s manifesto) will be fulfilled.”
Though firebrand five-term Lok Sabha member Yogi Adityanath, 44, is the choice of the more vocal among the party workers, the seasoned ones believe that his brand of politics might not be beneficial for the party in the long run. Also, his hard line ‘Hindutva’ may not help in carrying along all sections.
The name of amiable Lucknow mayor and party’s national vice-president Dinesh Sharma, 53, is also being discussed. He is a Brahmin.
BJP’s national spokesman Srikant Sharma, an MLA from Mathura who is considered close to party president Amit Shah, is also being mentioned in certain quarters, but many feel the 46-year-old lacks experience.
Some in the BJP say the leader of its legislature party in the outgoing assembly Suresh Khanna, 63, might emerge as the dark horse. Khanna, an upper caste Khatri, is an eight-time MLA.
With Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh background, Khanna has a down to earth image and is a dedicated partyman.
Siddharth Nath Singh, 53, the grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who has won the prestigious Allahabad West seat, is also being seen as a contender. He is a national secretary of the party and one of its spokespersons.
IMAGE: BJP president Amit Shah waves at party workers who welcome him on his arrival at the party headquarters in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo