In Rajya Sabha list, BJP sticks to OBC-Dalit winning formula

At a time when political parties, including its allies, are escalating demands for a caste census, the BJP has chosen its formula of “political empowerment” of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits by focussing on them while nominating candidates for the June 10 Rajya Sabha polls. More than half of the 22 candidates announced on Sunday and Monday belong to socially weaker communities.

The BJP seems to have made an earnest effort to address the intensifying politics over caste census by fielding nine OBC candidates. The candidate list is strictly in line with the social-engineering formula that has helped the party in its electoral battles since 2014. BJP leaders have attributed the party’s return to power in Uttar Pradesh to its command over the OBC-Dalit vote base in the state.

The BJP has also addressed the political aspirations of the upper castes and women. In the first itself, the party nominated Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman (from Karnataka) and Piyush Goyal (from Maharashtra). Of the 22, six are women candidates. In its Uttar Pradesh list, the party has accommodated two leaders from the forward castes — Laxmikant Bajpai and Radha Mohan Das Agarwal — and six from weaker sections. The six are Surendra Singh Nagar, Baburam Nishad, Sangeeta Yadav, Darshana Singh, Mithilesh Kumar, and K Laxman. From Bihar, it has chosen OBC leader Shambhu Sharan Patel and a Brahmin, Satish Chandra Dubey. In Karnataka, apart from Sitharaman, it has nominated former actor Jageesh, who belongs to the Vokkaliga community and is considered to be close to former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, and the party’s former treasurer Lahar Singh Siroya. In Madhya Pradesh, it has picked two women — Sumitra Valmiki, a Dalit, and Kavita Patidar, an OBC leader. The party’s nominee from Uttarakhand, Kalpana Saini, also belongs to a backward community.

While candidate Anil Sukhdevrao Bonde from Maharashtra is from an OBC community, Ghanshyam Tiwari in Rajasthan is a Brahmin leader who had locked horns with former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje years ago. Considering Raje’s not-so-good ties with the BJP’s top leadership, Tiwari’s return as a Rajya Sabha nominee has sent a clear message to the former CM and her camp. From Haryana, Dalit leader Krishan Lal Panwar has been chosen for the Upper House, while in Jharkhand the party’s nominee is Aditya Sahu who belongs to an OBC community.

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The BJP leadership’s political management was evident in its move to not press for the renomination of Union Minister of Steel R C P Singh from the Janata Dal (United) quota. Singh’s proximity with the BJP leaders and his alleged attempts to form a group in the party appear to have annoyed Bihar Chief Minister Kumar, who still calls the shots in the JD(U). Keen on placating Kumar, who does not hesitate to publicly express his differences with the BJP and has been mobilising parties to demand a caste census (the BJP has not agreed to it), the ruling party decided to ignore Singh’s requests to accommodate him in the party.

Meanwhile, with three of its Muslim MPs — Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, former minister M J Akbar, and party spokesperson Zafar Islam — set to vacate their seats in the Upper House, the decision to not nominate a single candidate from the minority community has triggered discussions in BJP circles. Sources in the party said Naqvi would be accommodated soon, either as a candidate in one of the two Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh scheduled for June 23 or in another key post. The BJP has yet to choose its candidates for the presidential and vice-presidential elections and many leaders in the party indicated that the top leadership could pick someone from the minority community for the vice president’s post.

Though the BJP has not officially given a reason for dropping Naqvi from the Rajya Sabha, party sources said he had been informed about “major changes” in the nominations for the Upper House. Naqvi is currently the party’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha. He has been one of the prominent talking heads for the government and is the sole Muslim face in the Union Cabinet.

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