The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a fix over projecting a face for the Uttar Pradesh elections due early next year, with an internal survey to find the right candidate further complicating the decision.
Read: Amit Shah reaches out to Dalits, farmers in election-bound UP
BJP chief Amit Shah invited a select few editors over tea in Delhi recently to inform that the party has not yet taken a call on whether it will declare a CM candidate in UP or not, but declared the Samajwadi Party as the main opponent.
Deliberations within party and the internal survey commissioned by Shah zeroed in on three names — Smriti Irani, Varun Gandhi and Yogi Adityanath. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was a popular choice but he is disinclined to move out of the North Block to take up the lead role in his home state.
“After having appointed an OBC leader as party chief, the party has to consolidate its support among the upper caste. But we do not have much options,” a BJP leader associated with UP matters told HT.
Keshav Prasad Maurya, a Koeri leader from the backward caste who has a VHP background, was named the BJP state unit chief and the party has made overtures to both the backwards and Hindutva forces. However, as a balancing act, the saffron party wants to project upper caste leaders in its campaign to keep the upper caste voters in good humour.
Read | Assembly polls 2017: It will be a fight for every vote in battlefield UP
One of the many proposals under consideration is for Rajnath Singh to helm the campaign committee, which will include prominent faces such as Uma Bharti, Sanjeev Balyan and Mahesh Sharma — all Union ministers from different social backgrounds — besides Gandhi and Adityanath.
However, this would mean the BJP would face next year’s crucial election without a chief ministerial candidate, a tactic that the party leadership remains unsure of — particularly against incumbent chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and indomitable BSP chief Mayawati.
But deciding a face is easier said than done.
Read | Amit Shah sees SP as chief rival in UP, yet to decide on CM face
The survey is learnt to have indicated that Irani and Gandhi were the two options expected to draw votes from beyond BJP’s regions of strength. But Gandhi’s reluctance to join the Hindutva bandwagon, his tactical shift towards left-of-centre politics and an alleged trust deficit between him and party chief Amit Shah diminish the probability of his nomination.
Irani, on the other hand, is a household name and considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but she is seen to have limited sway in the caste-centric politics of the country’s most populous state. Her track record of winning elections doesn’t inspire confidence either.
Adityanath, the third probable face for the BJP, is a polarising figure. He consolidates Hindu votes, but can alienate other social groups such as Brahmins, with whom he shares a strained relationship.
Time is fast running out for the BJP. “The RSS wants the BJP to take a call by September on whether or not it wants to have a face. The decision will be taken by the BJP leadership,” a source privy to the matter said.
Prime Minister Modi virtually blew the poll bugle from a rally at Saharanpur last week, calling himself a UP-wala [a person from UP]. This will be followed by the party’s national executive meeting in Allahabad. The BJP’s first list of candidate for Uttar Pradesh is expected in July.