It is evident from the Cabinet overhaul by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 7 that the crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2022 are on his mind.
Seven of the 36 new faces inducted in the Council of Ministers are from UP, taking the total representation from the state to 16. Care has been taken to balance caste and regional equations in the state. Those inducted in the Cabinet include Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal (Sonelal) – a small but key ally of the BJP – B.L. Verma, Pankaj Chaudhary, SP Singh Baghel, Kaushal Kishore, Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, and Ajay Kumar Mishra.
The focus is to target the constituencies of non-Yadav OBCs, especially the Kurmis and Scheduled Castes, and non-Jatav Dalits ahead of the 2022 elections. Patel and Chaudhary represent the Kurmis, and B.L. Verma belongs to the Lodh community. Given the importance of Dalit votes in UP, the three ministers representing SCs are Baghel, Kishore, and Bhanu Pratap Verma. Incidentally, Kishore was one of the state leaders who had questioned the handling of Covid-19 by the Yogi Adityanath government.
The entry of Ajay Kumar Mishra into the council of ministers will give representation to the Brahmins. Maintaining the delicate regional balance, the seven ministers represent Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand, Awadh, and Purvanchal regions of the state.
After the less-than-satisfactory performance in West Bengal elections, the BJP does not want to take any chances in UP, where people predominantly vote along caste and regional lines. “The party leadership was anyway under pressure because of handling of the Covid-19 second wave. The entire exercise of the Cabinet rejig is aimed at improving the perception of the government going into important assembly elections next year and the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. The PM’s message is that he is willing to make hard decisions to improve administration and governance; to put the coronavirus fiasco behind,” reveals a senior BJP leader.
Recently, when senior RSS functionaries including general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale visited UP to interact with the cadres, they got complaints about the chief minister’s proclivity towards Thakurs at the cost of others. In addition to mismanagement of coronavirus, this was the most notable feedback that the RSS got from the ground. Given that the BJP needed to give adequate weightage to various castes, groups, and regions. That is what the reshuffle has attempted.