Meet Keshav Prasad Maurya: BJP's new UP chief faces 10 criminal charges
The BJP's press release announcing Keshav Prasad Maurya, 46, as the party's new president in Uttar Pradesh has this interesting detail about him - he sold tea as a child.
And not only that. "Maurya also used to sell newspapers and help his family in agricultural activities. He has been in contact with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since his childhood."
The note trumpets his other achievements thus: Born in a "very ordinary" farmer's family, Maurya worked full time for the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a Sangh affiliate, for 12 years and participated in the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation.
What the note conveniently doesn't mention is this: Maurya faces 10 criminal cases, including for murder, inciting riots and fraud, according to his affidavit to the Election Commission in 2014. But this apparently does not bother the BJP's leadership.
Maurya was reportedly picked by BJP chief Amit Shah to contest the 2014 parliamentary polls from Phulpur over the objections of several party leaders.
His elevation to state chief, too, couldn't have happened without Shah's nod either, given how the contemporary BJP operates. But the appointment of the one-time legislator and first-term MP has caused dismay among senior party leaders in UP - although not entirely for the right reasons in case of at least some of them.
Maurya was described as a "dummy" by one senior upper caste leader who expected a Brahmin to be entrusted with steering the party through the polls in 2017. Maurya is an OBC. This senior leader had publicly lobbied the BJP brass to appoint a Brahmin as state president. Asked why his demand hadn't been heeded, he replied, "What can one say? It is a decision taken by the party's central leadership."
But who did he think Maurya was a "dummy" for? Rajnath Singh, of course, he insisted.
That appears to be off target. According to sources in the party, the mood in Rajnath's camp is “one of dismay", indicating Maurya's appointment did not have the home minister's approval.
BJP elder Lalji Tandon, when asked about the appointment, replied after a laugh, "Kya kiya jaaye? (What to do?)". He wouldn't comment on how the decision could impact the BJP's prospects in 2017.
That Maurya has little following in the party was made evident in January when he was assaulted by some party workers during a visit to Ballia. The incident led to the BJP expelling 12 local leaders and issuing show cause notices to two more.
Why then was he chosen? The OBCs are 45% of UP's population, and thus key to wining the state. The BJP has been wooing them for a while now; the party had fielded 25 OBCs in the 2014 polls – compared to 17 Brahmins, 14 Thakurs and 13 Dalits. It amounted to changing the party's profile from being a party of Brahmins and Vaishyas to one in which the OBCs have a bigger say. The strategy was a spectacular success, with the BJP taking 71 of the state's 80 seats.
Maurya's selection is part of the same strategy. Indeed, the party is expected to field more OBCs in 2017 than ever before. The idea is to use the OBCs to negate the Samajwadi Party's formidable Yadav-Muslim combine. But with the OBCs, unlike in 2014, seemingly reluctant to throw in their lot with the BJP, the success of this strategy is doubtful. Therefore, as some leaders are warning, Maurya's appointment could well backfire on the BJP.