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BJP brass set to anoint Manoj Sinha as UP president

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:37 IST

The conundrum

  • The BJP has been unable to build consensus on who should be its next president in Uttar Pradesh
  • The appointment is crucial because of the looming 2017 Assembly elections

The choice

  • Union MoS for Railways, Amit Shah, is set to be party chief Amit Shah\'s choice for the post
  • Sinha is said to be a Modi-Shah loyalist, which is of paramount importance to the BJP brass

More in the story

  • Who else was in the running for the post?
  • Which qualities turned the tide in Sinha\'s favour?

There was complete unanimity in the BJP about Amit Shah being retained as party president. But the there has been absolutely no consensus on who should lead the party in Uttar Pradesh.

That's about to change. According to sources within the party, Shah is all set to anoint Union Minister of State for Railways, Manoj Sinha, as the state party president.

Also read - Controversial Smriti, firebrand Yogi or motormouth Mahesh. Who'll be BJP's face in UP?

It's still not set in stone - in politics, there can always be a last-minute change, for a variety of reasons. But Sinha is the odds-on favourite as of now.

The numbers to keep in mind

The obvious reason why this is such an important question are the upcoming Assembly polls in 2017. The party registered a historic victory in the state in the 2014 general elections, winning 73 seats out of 80, and is keen to keep up the momentum.

However, the BJP's electoral record in the UP Assembly is not great. In fact, after the highs of the Ram Temple movement in the early 1990s, it's been all downhill.

Here's its track record so far:

1989 - 57 MLAs

1991 - 221 (Ram Temple movement)

1993 - 177 (after Babri demolition)

1996 - 174

2002 - 88

2007 - 51

2012 - 47

Assembly elections in UP rarely follow the pattern of the general elections, and this is what has got the party worried. Even the Modi wave seems to have faded in the last 20 months, and the Delhi and Bihar Assembly defeats in 2015 are also causing concern.

With observers seeing the 2017 polls as a semi-final for the 2019 general elections, the post of the BJP state president is of paramount importance.

Also read - Hindutva's poster-boy: can Mahesh Sharma be BJP's face in UP?

The contenders

Sources say there were around 12 names shortlisted for the position, which included Union ministers, senior state leaders and also some new faces.

Among the ministers, there were Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddh Nagar), Rama Shankar Katheria (a Dalit face from Agra), Santosh Kumar Gangwar (a Kurmi leader from Bareilly) and Manoj Sinha.

BJP's record in UP is not great. After the highs of the Ram Temple movement, it's gone downhill

Current state BJP president Laxmikant Vajpayee was also hopeful about an extension, with others on the list being Mahendra Singh and Dindesh Sharma.

The list was whittled down further to four names:

- Dharmpal Singh, from the Lodh community

- Swatantra Dev Singh, another Kurmi face

- Dinesh Sharma, a Brahmin face; and

- Manoj Sinha, who represents the Bhumihar community.

Main criterion for selection

Uttar Pradesh is an enormous state, and the party has no shortage of leaders. Even in the annals of its own history, many tall leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra have led the party in the state.

But today, there's no leader who can claim to be a popular mass leader throughout the state.

As a result, there is a lot of infighting and ambition, and choosing a leader who would be acceptable to all sections within the party is a big challenge.

The primary quality the party is looking for in its state president is loyalty to Modi and Shah

The primary quality the party has been looking for is loyalty to Modi and Shah. An obedient state chief will faithfully follow the directions of the duo. The party doesn't want another situation like the one with Kalyan Singh, who had begun challenging the party's top brass.

Dharmpal lost out for this reason. He may not be a popular leader, but he is a hardcore BJP organisation man who knows the people in the party and is also close to RSS and other sister organisations. But he was endorsed by Rajnath Singh and Ramlal, the organisation secretary of the BJP. Modi and Shah could not accept a man who is favoured by potential challengers to the leadership.

How Sinha emerged as the front-runner

- Sinha hails from eastern UP and represents a caste which has a small presence in the state. With little mass support, there is virtually no chance of him becoming very powerful.

- He is loyal to Modi and Shah. Even if he doesn't get a chance at the UP BJP president, he can be elevated as a Cabinet minister at the Centre.

- The caste factor also worked against Dharmpal and in favour of Sinha. Both Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti come from the Lodh community and wouldn't appreciate another face being projected as a representative of the community.

Sinha is a Bhumihar, a caste which doesn't have numbers in UP, and is less likely to become powerful

- There is also the danger of an upper class shift towards the Congress. But with Sinha at the helm, this vote bank can be consolidated.

- Sinha is close to the RSS, having begun his political career with the student organisation ABVP.

- The party may face a tough fight in eastern UP, and Sinha's presence may work in its favour.

By making him the state BJP president, the party can keep its core vote bank intact. With this secure, it can then target the OBC and Dalit vote through other routes.

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First published: 10 February 2016, 2:38 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.