BJP survey finds Varun Gandhi most popular CM face in UP. Will Modi-Shah agree?
The loss in Bihar and victory in Assam seem to have driven home a simple message for the BJP - that it is best not to project Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its mascot everywhere. In other words, when it comes to state elections, it is better to project a local face.
Possibly taking a cue from Assam, the party is reportedly mulling repeating the strategy of launching a chief ministerial-candidate for Uttar Pradesh. BJP had ordered a survey for identifying such a candidate and its results are out.
Assam was the 11th state that BJP contested after coming to power at the centre in May 2014 and this was the first state where it officially announced a chief ministerial-candidate. Sarbananda Sonowal was already a Union Minister when he was made the chief of BJP's unit in Assam and projected as the party's face in the state, nearly four months before polls.
In Uttar Pradesh, party workers have been demanding projection of a face for a long time. There are many aspirants and each of them have their own lobbies. To find out who among the names floating in the state enjoys the widest appeal, the party recently commissioned a survey, a source in the BJP told Catch. It was carried out by a private agency linked with the party. The top three names that the survey threw up are all MPs.
1. Varun Gandhi
The MP from Sultanpur has emerged as the top pick. The survey says he has the widest appeal because of being young, a local, a member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan and a good orator who has the ability to connect with people.
There is only one factor that is working to his disadvantage. According to the BJP source, party chief Amit Shah is still miffed with Gandhi's controversial downplaying of the crowd that attended Modi's rally in Kolkata in February 2014.
Shah is said to have been trying to sideline Gandhi since 2013, when he was appointed as the BJP's general secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh.
In UP's much-discussed poster wars, posters supporting Gandhi have often been reported.
BJP MP Varun Gandhi on a two-day visit to Allahabad (UP), posters put up to welcome him to the city pic.twitter.com/pGx1D2I0jS— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) April 30, 2016
2. Smriti Irani
The Union HRD Minister has secured the second place, in spite of being a front-runner. Ever since she contested against Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi from Amethi, she has been visiting the state on a regular basis. However, local BJP leaders and workers feel that the fact that Irani does not belong to the state will go against her and the party. The non-BJP vote, especially, that the party hopes to convert to its own, will not be enthused by her, the survey points out.
Interestingly, other posters have also been sighted in the state in which a clear preference for Gandhi over Irani has been indicated.
Posters seen in Allahabad (UP) pic.twitter.com/JlD53oBaU5— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) May 25, 2016
3. Yogi Adityanath
The firebrand MP from Gorakhpur is also among the frontrunners and is very active on political issues in the state. His staunch positions on the Sangh Parivar's traditional issues like Ram Mandir, cow protection and religious conversions have made him a favourite of the hardliner brigade.
However, caste combinations are coming in his way, according to the survey. Adityanath is a Thakur and his community has a strong lobby in the state that, incidentally, also includes Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The survey has flagged that if Adityanath is chosen, it will alienate Brahmins, OBCs and Dalits. Also given Adityanath's firebrand image, the Muslims may consolidate and vote tactically to defeat the BJP..
The jury is still out in BJP-RSS on the question of selecting a face for the UP 2017 campaign. The polls are still a year away, even though there is buzz that they may be called ahead of schedule. If that happens, this survey may turn out to be the final internal assessment and may present the next line of leadership in the state.