Will Keshav Maurya end BJP's 14-year political exile in Uttar Pradesh?
Lucknow: Barely a fortnight since he was named the BJP chief in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Maurya seemingly is still trying to come to terms with the arduous task his bosses in New Delhi have given him. On ground too, it seems more than an uphill job.
It certainly is much more than posturing as a one-time tea vendor, aka Prime Minister Narendra Modi, brandishing his caste and background as an old Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) hand, who is a favourite with the fringe elements and the community of saints. Close aides concede that the 46-year-old was "for now in a thank you mode trying to strike a balance between the rising aspirations of party cadres and the never-been-one party veterans".
The Lok Sabha MP from Phulpur recently posted pictures of his meetings with past and present party leaders on his Facebook profile page. The post shows him touching the feet of party president Amit Shah, party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh, union minister Kalraj Mishra (also the longest serving state president ever in UP), hugging other state satraps and in a frame with union home minister and former UP chief minister Rajnath Singh.
Insiders however rue that the 'honeymoon' might soon be over as Maurya realizes that politics in the state was much more than mere photo ops! Maurya has started touring the state and has so far visited Phulpur, Allahabad, Lucknow and Kanpur and has tried to take on the four-year-old Samajwadi Party (SP) government, though feebly as of now.
Party leaders point out that the new chief has a task cut out, especially after he posted a target of 265-plus seats for the 2017 state assembly elections, which for now appear to be set for a close finish in a multi-cornered contest.
"The problem with Keshav Maurya, as it appears now, is that he has bitten off more than he can chew," admitted an old party hand, who suggested that he would be better placed if he could connect with the foot soldiers who got a short shrift during the tenure of his predecessor, Laxmikant Bajpayi.
Elections to the state assembly are just eight months away and to start with a blank slate is, indeed, an envious job, feel many. He is yet to stitch up a state executive - a team of leaders for organization jobs. Wooing the farmers is an additional challenge.
The success of 'gramodaya se Bharat uday tak' a party initiative to connect with farmers, under way from April 14 to 23, is also under the microscope of the national leadership. Next month's bypolls in Bilari and Jangipura, held by the ruling SP and eyed by a resurgent BSP, will also be a litmus test for the new party boss in UP.
A win will boost the morale of the leadership and the cadre while a loss would upset the applecart.
Congress spokesman Virendra Madan is direct and bitter in his take on Maurya. "He represents the mindset of the current BJP leadership. The national president Amit Shah has a criminal background and so does Maurya. I am sure they think alike and will sink their party alike," he said.
BSP leader Swamy Prasad Maurya, who is leader of the opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, also is critical of his namesake and predicted he will be a "spent force" by the time the polls come around. "All the drama of caste and farmers et al is a script of doom and will fall flat on the face of the BJP as behen Mayawati is set to lead BSP to power", he mused.
BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak, however, placed his bets on his new boss and said Maurya was the perfect choice for the job and that he had the "vision and the capability" to lead the BJP in the assembly polls.
For the Lord Rama followers in the saffron fold, it is ironical that their 'vanvaas' (exile) from power in the state now stands exactly at 14 years, the period that mythology says Lord Rama was banished into jungles by his stepmother. The BJP last shared power in UP with Mayawati in 2002.
Will Keshav Maurya end the exile for the BJP or not, only time will tell. For now however, the party is far from being battle ready to take on the 'bhaiyya' (Akhilesh Yadav), 'neta ji' (Mulayam), 'behenji' (Mayawati) and the combination of 'PK' (poll strategist Prashant Kumar) and 'Yuvjraj' (Rahul Gandhi)!