Cabinet expansion: Focus on Purvanchal, Brahmin voters in UP
Lucknow: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday turned the spotlight on Purvanchal or eastern Uttar Pradesh and the BJP's efforts at balancing regions and caste equations, political leaders here said.
The induction of Shiv Pratap Shukla as a minister highlighted the importance of the Brahmin vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party, they said.
The 65-year-old Shukla, who belongs to Gorakhpur - the citadel of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath - joined the Union council of ministers just days after Mahendra Nath Pandey from Ghazipur, also in eastern UP, was made state BJP chief.
Shukla and Pandey are Brahmins, and the moves are being seen as efforts by the party to keep the community in its fold for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma in UP is also a Brahmin.
"Brahmins are being given their due. The expansion is well thought out and balanced. This will strengthen the party for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls," a BJP insider said.
In a bid, however, to also embrace the western parts of the state, Modi did a fine balancing act by picking up Satyapal Singh, a former IPS officer representing Baghpat in the Lok Sabha, as a minister of state.
Often referred to as a giant killer, Singh had trounced mighty Jat leader and Rashtriya Lok Dal supremo Ajit Singh, relegating him to the third spot in the west UP constituency.
Brahmins account for over 10 per cent of the electorate in the state and are considered a force to reckon with in the highly caste-based electoral politics in almost all its regions - Bundelkhand, Rohilkhand, Purvanchal, Avadh and western UP.
Traditionally seen as Congress supporters, the community started supporting the BJP in large numbers in the post-Mandal era. However, sections later also voted for Mayawati's BSP.
Perhaps keeping this factor in mind ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Pandey was picked up from eastern Uttar Pradesh bordering Bihar.
"Purvanchal (eastern UP) has once again been given importance in the ministry," BJP leader and state spokesman Shalabh Mani Tripathi said.
Pandey, an MP from Chandauli, shot into prominence after his induction into the Union government in July last year, just months before the Assembly election in the state.
The slot has now been filled by Shukla, with Pandey being handed over the mantle of the party in UP, ahead of the crucial parliamentary election less than two years away.
Similarly, the resignation of Sanjeev Balyan from the Union ministry was filled by Singh. Balyan, a Jat, is from western UP -- as is the MP from Baghpat, who, like him, also belongs to the community that dominates West UP.
Singh, who wanted to be a scientist before he joined the IPS in 1980 and was given the Maharashtra cadre, had earlier said his "inner voice" urged him to change his profession.
He quit the job of a police officer, became an MP and now as a Union minister aims at working "for the entire country with renewed energy".
Tripathi stressed the BJP was working on its 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas' (development for all) agenda.
"The government's core issue is development for all areas, taking along everyone," he said.
The elevation of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who belongs to Rampur in UP and is a member of the Rajya Sabha, to the Cabinet rank sends a message to Muslims about the BJP's bid to take the community along, especially after its strong stand against the Triple Talaq, the state leaders said.
UP minister Mohsin Raza stressed minorities were being given their due.