Mission Mukhyamantri: BJP has task cut out in UP

By Mohit Dubey

Lucknow: The question is ringing loud and clear. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam. But what about Uttar Pradesh?

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With several faces jostling in the BJP landscape for the UP top job, the party has a task cut out: to choose the right chief ministerial face for the 2017 assembly election. Assam has shown the way: the right one can win the election for the party. And the BJP leadership understands it all too well.

It’s a problem of plenty for the saffron party in the northern state. There are the more-than-willing old guards; and then there are the young guns who are ready to take up any challenge thrown at them.

Party insiders say that the central leadership was not convinced about the need for a face in Uttar Pradesh polls and wanted to contest the assembly election “around the Narendra Modi aura”. But Assam has changed all of that. The BJP central leadership is now seeking feedback from the grassroots workers on their choice for the chief ministerial candidate.

Several names are doing rounds. The list includes Union ministers Kalraj Mishra, Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani and Mahesh Sharma, besides Sultanpur MP Varun Gandhi and Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma. However, the party top brass knows that “too many cooks spoil the broth”.

So will it be a “collective leadership” to lead the charge in the polls, before a “loyalist” is picked up if the party clinches a victory?

Sources say Mishra, who has been the longest-serving BJP state president in Uttar Pradesh, is ruled out because of his age and lack of charisma.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, under whose watch the last BJP government walked into sunset over a decade ago, is said to be “happy with his ministry at the Centre”.

Noida MP and Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma is one of the front-runners because of his proximity to both Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Modi. However, Sharma lacks mass support in the state.

Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani is another front-runner at the moment. But any delay in naming her could singe her prospects as a “dependable and winning face”.

She has the confidence of the prime minister and party president Amit Shah. She has a gift of gab, and is fluent in both English and Hindi. She also has a support base among the women as was clear during her 2014 campaign in Amethi against Rahul Gandhi.

Dinesh Sharma, the suave Lucknow mayor, has not made much headway despite being a Brahmin. He is seen as “too simple, meek and decent” to take on the onslaught of Mulayam Yadav, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.

Sultanpur MP Varun Gandhi is extremely popular with the youth of the state. But his candidature is said to have been spiked because of his “surname” and the fact that he is “a man with his own mind.”

On his birthday a few months back, Gandhi’s supporters in Moradabad demanded that he should be the next chief minister of the state. The young leader himself is not averse to the idea of taking charge.

Former chief minister Kalyan Singh’s name too has popped. Currently the Rajasthan governor, Singh said he was ready for “whatever the party wanted” him to do. The ‘whatever’ was obvious. But keeping his age in mind and considering the young electorate, he too may be ruled out.

A party leader told IANS that initially the party had dabbled with the idea of a caste-based name. But with Keshav Maurya appointed as the party’s state president, the caste equation has been addressed.

Party sources said that to counter names like Mayawati and incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, the BJP must have a chief ministerial face. “It is the need of the hour,” the party leader said.

The hunt is on for a credible, charismatic and acceptable face. ‘Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri’ — that is now the mission for party strategists.