’Sharma was sent to Lucknow for a purpose, but he has merely been adjusted in the party hierarchy because the chief minister refused to induct him into his government. He was secretary in the Central government and was holding a much higher office than the state ruling party’s vice-president.’
Virendra Singh Rawat reports.
January this year was uncharacteristically restive for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh.
In the winter month there was hot gossip revolving around the sudden entry of retired bureaucrat Arvind Kumar Sharma, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, into the saffron party’s state citadel.
A 1988 batch Gujarat cadre IAS officer, Sharma, who was serving as secretary in the Union MSME department, had on January 11 taken voluntary retirement and on January 14 joined the BJP in the presence of UP BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh.
The very next day, he was nominated candidate for the UP legislative council election.
Later on January 21, Sharma, along with nine other BJP and two Samajwadi Party nominees, was elected unopposed to the upper house of the state legislature.
Thereafter, speculation was rife that Sharma, as a close confidant of Modi, would be UP deputy chief minister or given a lucrative cabinet berth in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls.
His sudden paratrooping from New Delhi had waxed credence to the grapevine that beyond the public niceties and camaraderie, all was not well between Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
There were stories doing the rounds in the corridors of power that Sharma was not given an audience with Adityanath, since the chief minister was unhappy at the way the former bureaucrat had been thrust upon him, without taking him into confidence.
While this was happening, the stiff, second wave of the pandemic and a sudden spike in demand for medical supplies including oxygen in April and May kept the saffron party and the UP government in an overdrive to bend the curve.
On June 19, Sharma was finally anointed vice-president of the UP BJP.
Considering that there are more than a dozen vice-presidents in the state BJP, political analysts say Adityanath had succeeded in having his way.
Political commentator Sharat Pradhan observed “round one” had gone to Adityanath and it remained to be seen if Sharma was given any significant role in the state affairs ahead of the polls.
“Sharma was sent to Lucknow for a purpose, but he has merely been adjusted in the party hierarchy because the chief minister refused to induct him into his government. He was secretary in the central government and was holding a much higher office than the state ruling party’s vice-president,“ he said.
Besides, the visit of senior BJP functionaries to Lucknow last month, followed by Adityanath’s meeting with Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi before Sharma was inducted as an office-bearer, also indicates that the matter was beginning to snowball into a major faceoff, but it was defused in time.
In a symbolic rapprochement, Sharma recently wrote to the UP BJP president, observing that while Modi’s popularity was unscathed since 2014, the party under the leadership of Adityanath and the state unit president would win more seats in UP than ever before.
Nonetheless, Sharma is expected to be drafted in the party’s eastern UP region to expedite the developmental and infra projects, especially in Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi, ahead of the elections.
Since he had a long bureaucratic experience and had been a key member of Team Modi from the days the latter was Gujarat chief minister, Sharma could come in handy to ensure that the projects are completed within timelines and there are no procedural delays.
However, the opposition parties are not buying this theory.
Senior Congress leader and former legislator Ajay Rai, who had contested against Modi in 2019 in Varanasi, said Sharma had been given a raw deal by Adityanath.
“A person who tipped to become deputy chief minister was made the ruling party’s UP vice-president, when there are already about 16 in that post. At the same time, the claim that Sharma had improved the pandemic situation in Varanasi is hogwash. Even the mini PMO in the constituency is lying dysfunctional for a long time,” he said.
Repeated attempts to contact Sharma for his comments on this issue did not succeed.