Middle ground: why Manoj Sinha looks likely to be BJP's choice for UP CM
Manoj Sinha won the Lok Sabha polls from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1996 and 1999. He lost to Samajwadi Party candidates in 1998 and 2004, and the buzz, according to a local close to him, was that the next time he won would be when the Bharatiya Janata Party would come to power.
This came true in 2014, when the Narendra Modi wave swept the most populous state in the country. The saffron party and its allies won 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, and Sinha was among the winners, going on to become a Union minister.
After his 2004 loss to mafia don Mukhtar Ansari’s brother Afzal, Sinha had taken a political sanyas of sorts, deciding to not contest the next polls in 2009. “He was not even keen to contest the 2014 elections. But he was prodded by the senior leaders of the party,” the local told Catch.
Almost three years later, the BJP and its allies have swept to power in UP with 325 of the state's 403 Assembly seats. And now, Sinha has emerged as the front-runner for the post of Chief Minister, with the swearing-in ceremony set to take place on Sunday, 19 March.
'Mr Clean' image
Sinha's rise on the political ladder has coincided with the BJP’s resurgence in the state, after almost two decades of the party being pushed to the sidelines by regional outfits like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, after it had tasted success riding on the Ram Mandir wave and the subsequent demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Like Keshav Prasad Maurya, the party's state chief, the mostly dhoti kurta-clad Sinha, too, claims that he is not in the race for the important post. But party insiders say he is the most acceptable face, and has everything going for him, unlike Maurya, who has 11 criminal cases pending against him, including one charge of murder.
Sinha is seen as someone with an unblemished record. He is an M.Tech, in Civil Engineering from what is now the IIT at Banaras Hindu University.
This is an era where the BJP is keen to give power in the hands of those who have risen up the ranks of Sangh Parivar outfits. This is where Sinha's days with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, with whom he was the president of the BHU students' union, give him an edge over other contenders.
What has also helped Sinha's case is that Rajnath Singh, BJP's seniormost leader from UP and a former CM, is not to keen to move back to Lucknow from his North Block office in New Delhi. Interestingly, the UP CM's official residence is 5, Kalidas Marg, while Rajnath's permanent address is 4, Kalidas Marg.
“There were just two serious contenders, Sinha and Singh,” a party leader said. “Rajnath Singh seems to be not so keen to go back to Lucknow.”
In such a scenario, somebody trusted by Prime Minister Modi is likely to be appointed the CM, and hence Sinha is at the top of the list.
The way he was asked to contest the 2014 polls, then first made the Minister of State for Railways, and then given the charge of the Telecom Ministry as an MoS with Independent Charge all point to the PM's trust in him.
It was also visible in the way Modi praised him in a recent election rally in Varanasi.
The caste factor
After the BJP and its allies won more than 80% of the seats in UP, it was being speculated that the party would an OBC leader, since its win hinged on support from non-Yadav OBCs and the upper castes.
However, a move like that could sharpen caste contradictions. This is where Sinha scores as a neutral figure, and Maurya's chances look bleak.
Sinha is a a Bhumihar, a community which is just confined to some pockets in the Poorvanchal region. Thus, he would not bring in the kind of baggage that would have come if the party were to appoint a Brahmin or a Thakur as its leader in the state. Both these communities have a far greater presence than the Bhumihars, who have a far smaller stake in the state's politics.
According to people who have followed Sinha's growth as a politician say he has largely confined himself to Bhumihar-centric politics in and around Ghazipur.
Even in an election where the BJP won 80% of the seats, it could win just two of the five seats in Ghazipur. But Sinha has been helped by the presence of the likes of Mukhtar Ansari in the political battlefield. “Just Ansari's presence in the fray polarised the constituency,” a local said. “Sinha is no Yogi Adityanath.”
The Bhumihars see Sinha as their tallest leader after Kalpnath Rai. Even Krishnanand Rai, the slain Bahujan Samaj Party leader, who was allegedly gunned down by Ansari's men, did not command as much respect, because he was involved in illegal activities.
For now, Sinha seems to be in the driver's seat. The BJP has earlier experimented with Kalyan Singh (an OBC) and Rajnath Singh (a Thakur) as its CMs in UP. This time, it looks like it'll go with Bhumihar Sinha to balance the caste equations.