If power comes to BJP in UP after 11 March, a lot of questions would be saved. If not, they’ll grow louder, and multiply.
Amit Shah may have claimed victory in 50 of the 73 seats which went to poll in western Uttar Pradesh on 11 February 2017, but the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national president is well aware of the discontent over ticket distribution that could undermine his claim.
On 12 February 2017, Shah held a meeting with some of the angry ticket aspirants in Varanasi whose claims were set aside. These included Varanasi’s Shyam Deo Rai Choudhary ‘Dada’, the seven-time MLA from Varanasi South. Dada, the present MLA, is angry at having been replaced by one Neel Kanth Tiwari and has refused to campaign for the official candidate. Before Shah tried to pacify ‘Dada’, BJP’s state president Keshav Prasad Maurya went to the sulking legislator’s house to get him involved in campaigning.
In an attempt at controlling the damage, it is learnt that Shah explained to Dada the circumstances under which he was denied the party ticket. He assured Shyam Deo that he would be suitably accommodated if the party comes to power. The septuagenarian leader was not amused, and sources in the BJP said that the party might have to reconsider its decision to avoid any embarrassment in the Prime Minister’s constituency itself.
Besides Shyam Deo, there were other angry ticket aspirants from Azamgarh, Ballia and Gonda whom Shah tried to placate. There are around 80 leaders from other parties, mainly the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who crossed over to the BJP recently and have been given the lotus symbol at the cost of BJP's own ticket aspirants. On some other seats, children of senior party leaders have been preferred over local ticket contenders. This preference has led to resentment and infighting in the party, denting its chances.
Hukum Singh’s daughter Mriganka Singh, for instance, may find victory from Kairana constituency elusive despite her father’s attempts to mobilise opinion against the flight of Hindus from Kairana. She has to surmount opposition from a strong contender for ticket Anil Chauhan, who turned rebel and joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) after being dumped by the BJP. The RLD fielded him from Kairana and Chauhan, who was the BJP candidate from here in 2012 but lost the election by 1,100 votes, is confident of victory.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi from Lucknow Cantonment, Brajesh Pathak from Lucknow Central and Neeraj Bora from Lucknow North are some of the other outsiders who have been favoured with tickets. Joshi, the former president of UP Congress Committee, is being opposed by the man she defeated in 2012 - Suresh Tiwari of the BJP. She may find the going tough this time because of Tiwari. Former BSP MP Brajesh Pathak also carries the outsider tag. It’s because of him that former MLA Vidyasagar Gupta was denied a ticket. Neeraj Bora, another former Congress member, had lost in 2012. According to party sources, he has Lucknow MP Rajnath Singh’s backing.
Trouble was also brewing in Kaushambi, the home district of BJP’s state president KP Maurya. Party workers have protested against “unknown faces” being fielded from Kaushambi’s Sirathu and Manjhanpur and warned that the party might have to face the consequences for overlooking loyal workers. Angry rebels recently locked the gates of the party’s headquarters in Lucknow and staged a protest at the Amausi airport on Amit Shah’s arrival in the city to release the party manifesto.
Shah interpreted the protests as an indication of BJP coming to power in the state and not something to worry about. On the face of it, the state leadership also does not take the rebels too seriously even though the possible fallout makes for a disconcerting thought.
On the other hand, in some seats like Gunnaur in Badaun, and districts like Lakhimpur Kheri, the party is expecting to do well precisely on the back of leaders imported from other parties.
Can a cadre-based party like BJP afford to give tickets to new entrants, setting aside loyalists? Or should winnability be the only factor kept in mind when deciding on candidates? The answers to these questions would be more invented rather than revealed on counting day, 11 March.