Will political ‘imports’ hurt BJP’s bid to end its UP ‘exile’?

By Mohit Dubey

Lucknow, (IANS) : Will the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hopes of ending its 14-year political vanvaas (exile) in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming election be shattered by a rebellion from within — and against those being dubbed as “outsiders”?

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While the jury is still out on the matter, the fact is that the cadre seem to be disoriented by the BJP central leadership’s largescale embrace of “turncoats” and political opportunists who have been encouraged to flock to the party ahead of the elections — largely because the party felt it did not have “decent, winning candidates” for as many as 150 of the 403 seats in the assembly.

A veteran party worker from the Lucknow Central assembly constituency summed up the despondency as he rued how, over “good, clean and home-bred” people in the party, the leadership had chosen Brajesh Pathak, former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP, as its candidate.

Pathak, though a Brahmin leader of some stature, clambered on to the BJP bandwagon only last August.

One of the top contenders for this ticket was the party’s state Vice President and city Mayor Dinesh Sharma, who many tout as Chief Minister material if the BJP comes to power. The anger, which was earlier palpable only in some sections, now seems to be spreading like the plague and is spilling onto the streets.

There have been fiery protests in many places in Uttar Pradesh — Lucknow, Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, for instance — where ticket distribution, party workers say, has been “mortgaged to baahris (outsiders)”.

In Lucknow alone, the BJP has fielded three such “outsiders” — Rita Bahuguna Joshi (Congress) in Lucknow Cantt, Brajesh Pathak (BSP) in Lucknow Central and Avinash Trivedi (BSP) in Bakshi Ka Talaab.

Sensing trouble for himself, former BSP stalwart R.K. Chowdhary has preferred to contest as an “independent” from Mohanlalganj despite the BJP declaring him its official candidate for the seat, which it has never won.

A senior party official from Gosainganj, Raj Kumar Verma, says BJP workers are openly defying the party diktat and have sent signed appeals in their hundreds to its leaders to reverse the decision. “There should be no place for such leaders who seek our support before an election and abuse us the rest of the time,” he said candidly.

Anger is also simmering in Bakshi Ka Talaab — a Yadav-dominated seat where the BJP preferred Trivedi over party heavyweights Shivdarshan Yadav, Ram Saran Yadav, Ram Niwas Yadav and Pradeep Yadav.

The situation is more or less the same in Allahabad, where, despite stiff opposition from the cadre, the BJP has given at least five seats to new entrants. These include the City South and City North constituencies, and Bara, Phulpur and Phaphamau in the hinterland.

Former BSP leader and ex-minister Nandgopal “Nandi”, who joined the BJP just days ago, has been declared as its candidate from City South. Harshwardhan Bajpai, who too switched over to BJP from the BSP seven months back, has been given the ticket from City North.

In Allahabad rural, another BSP leader and ex-MLA Praveen Patel, who crossed over to the BJP a year back, has been given the ticket from the Phulpur constituency. Patel had won the seat in the 2007 election on a BSP ticket. In Bara, Samajwadi Party “turncoat” and sitting MLA Ajay Bharti has been declared the BJP candidate, while another SP entrant and ex-MLA Vikramjeet Maurya has been given a ticket from Phaphamau.

In the past few months, more than two dozen sitting legislators and 100 prominent faces from other parties have crossed over to the BJP fold, creating more trouble for the party, which already seems to have its cup of woes overflowing.

While state leaders give this a positive spin and liken it to a surge in favour of the No. 1 party, the situation could spiral out of control when the actual voting happens, fear some.

“Euphoria aside, the party will have to tackle dissent and assuage hurt loyalists,” a senior state leader admitted.

Senior BJP leader and Union Power Minister Piyush Goel, however, makes light of the issue. In an informal conversation with IANS, the Union minister said “such issues have always been there” and refuted allegations of the party going “off principles and conventions” in giving tickets to “outsiders”.

“If you see the number of such people getting tickets, it will come out to just a handful,” he said.

State BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya, who has been facing the heat for the “faulty” ticket distribution, is also unmoved.

“The talk of anger within party cadre is baseless. There have been concerns among party workers on tickets in some places. We have taken note of them. We are a cadre-based party and there can never be a compromise on the honour and aspirations of our workers,” he said.

Party mandarins also justify the handing out of tickets to people like Swamy Prasad Maurya, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Brajesh Pathak and Rajesh Tripathi, pointing out that while tickets were being finalised, the party realised that it did not have “decent, winning candidates” in more than 150 seats, making the “import absolutely necessary”.

For a traditionally “brahmin-thakur-baniya” party, sources said, finding OBCs, Dalits and MBC (most backward classes) candidates turned out to be a tough hunt and it decided to assimilate the strong ones from other parties.

“It may not sound morally correct or practical but in every sense these decisions are logical, as the results would show,” said a party strategist.

Exactly what electoral harvest the BJP reaps with leaders from other parties and how much has it been able to quell dissidence in its own rank and file only time will tell as the state elects a new assembly in a staggered seven-phase election beginning February 11, with the results to be declared on March 8.