The first signal on how the party plans to retain the support of upper castes, Dalits, OBCs and Most Backward Castes will come from who it picks as Chief Minister.
The biggest dilemma for the Modi-Shah duo who are constantly in poll mode is how to balance the aspirations stoked by the win. Even if the party plans to propel a pro-development agenda and picks a leader based solely on these criteria, social segments will dissect the caste element in the choice of the candidate. This may please some and displease others as aspiration levels in all segments of voters are very high.
The BJP's top decision-making body, its parliamentary board, will initiate discussions on this complex issue today. PM Modi will lead the discussions on the results from five states, along with government formation. BJP leaders are waiting to see if Modi-Shah pick from among the known probables or spring a surprise.
The front-runner, largely due to the emphatic and decisive support the BJP received from the Most Backward Castes, could be Keshav Prasad Maurya, the party president in Uttar Pradesh, who, after the result, didn't rule himself out for the job and said he would surrender to the decision of the party's top duo.
He has a long RSS background as he was an active member and office-bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. After his appointment as state president, the top brass feels he has emerged as a good organisational leader who has the backing of Modi-Shah. Since MBCs are seen as groups with whom upper castes (the party's traditional supporters) have less friction than others, Maurya can be called a front-runner.
The other probable in the BJP's buzz is Manoj Sinha, current Minister of State for Railways and Telecom. He has emerged as one of the favourites of Modi-Shah in the last one year. Though an MTech from Benares Hindu University, he is supposed to have a connect with masses, especially rural. He belongs to the Bhumihar Brahmin caste and is considered a firm administrator.
Others who can be called strong contenders include Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma, who is a low-profile Brahmin leader. He was close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and like Manoj Sinha, his educational background as a professor in Lucknow University is considered a plus.
Interestingly, at the behest of the PM, the Intelligence Bureau has submitted a detailed scan report on the names which are doing the rounds and this includes Sharma who is also the national Vice President in-charge of Gujarat. Such scans are carried out to ensure that there are no skeletons in the leaders' cupboards. The Intelligence Bureau was called in right after various exit polls indicated that the BJP may emerge as the front-runner in the crucial state.
Sharma has some visible feathers in his cap. He had invited PM Modi for the Lucknow Ramlila in October last year where the chants "Jai Shri Ram" received wide attention as the PM subtly added a slice of Hindutva to the BJP's electoral push. In his speech, the PM addressed Sharma as the 'Yashaswi' (Man of fame) of Lucknow.
Sharma comes from a Brahmin family with old ties with the BJP's ideological mentor, the RSS. His close proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah earned him the mandate to handle Gujarat which goes to polls next.
The other name is Siddharth Nath Singh, who is a BJP National Secretary. He is a prominent BJP face in TV debates and belongs to the Kayasth caste, considered neutral in UPs social arithmetic. Plus he is an elected MLA, not an MP like Manoj Sinha or Keshav Maurya. He has experience in handling complex political issues from handling states like West Bengal, where the BJP's performance improved in the last polls. Singh is the grandson of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri.
BJP leaders and workers are also curious to see if the Chief Minister will be chosen from among the more than 300 newly-elected MLAs. If an outsider is chosen, it could be seen as inadequate confidence in and reward for the voters who selected these MLAs.
These names face the RSS' scrutiny too as the Sangh put in a lot of effort in this election and would like to have a say in deciding the Chief Minister, who will lead the BJP into the 2019 election. The RSS would like to have a man with a past with the organisation.
(Rahul Shrivastava is Senior Editor, Political Affairs NDTV 24x7)
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