Yogi Adityanath Expands Cabinet Ahead Of UP Assembly Election

The expansion comes months before Assembly polls in the state and, with those in mind, is expected to include representation from across castes and communities

UP cabinet expansion: Yogi Adityanath and the BJP face a stern challenge in next year's election (File)

Lucknow:

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath expanded his cabinet Sunday evening, with former Congress leader Jitin Prasada the most high-profile new face in the ruling BJP administration.

The expansion comes months before Assembly polls in the politically key state, and the newly inducted members have been chosen with that poll math in mind.

Mr Prasada was a close associate of Rahul Gandhi, and the party's top Brahmin face in UP, before he swapped parties in June.

Brahmins make up about 13 per cent of UP's voters and are an influential chunk that has steadily gravitated from the Congress towards the BJP over the years.

The BJP will hope his image can reset the optics of Yogi Adityanath's government, which is seen by some sections of the Brahmin community as being pro-Thakur (the Chief Minister's caste).

In July last year, Mr Prasada launched a "Brahmin Chetna Parishad" but it had little impact.

Other new faces are Chatrapal Gangwar - the MLA from Bahedi in Bareilly, Dharamveer Prajapati - who is an MLC from western UP's Agra, and Dr Sangeeta Balwant Bind - a first-time MLA from Ghazipur Sadar. All three are from OBC communities.

"Whatever time is there we will work... the BJP wants to take all communities with it (a reference to the party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'sabka saath, sabka vikas' slogan)... there is no harm in furthering the interests of all communities," Dr Bind said.

Also inducted were Hastinapur MLA Dinesh Khateek, Sanjiv Kumar (also known as Sanjay Gond) - a first-time MLA from Obra in eastern UP's Sonbhadra, and Paltu Ram - a first-time MLA from Balrampur Sadar who has been in politics for close to two decades and was earlier with the BSP.

Dinesh Khateek and Paltu Ram are from a Scheduled Caste. Sanjiv Kumar is from a Scheduled Tribe.

"I have worked in the BJP for a long time and we will follow the policy of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas'. Dalits have voted for the BJP en masse and this trend is going to continue," Mr Khateek said.

All newly inducted ministers will, however, only have three months in office before the Model Code of Conduct kicks in - a point Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav made when he tweeted.

A former Chief Minister, Mr Yadav called the inductions a "hoax", and accused the BJP of paying lip service to marginalised communities by including them in the cabinet just before the election.

"The cabinet expansion of the BJP government of UP is a hoax. Today a drama is being created to represent those who (did not) get their due for four-and-a-half years. Before the ink on their nameplates (at their new offices) dries, the Model Code of Conduct will kick in," his tweet read.

"The concluding point of the BJP drama has begun," Mr Yadav added.

Earlier it was suggested Sanjay Nishad of the Nishad Party, an ally of the BJP, would also be included.

A few months earlier Mr Nishad had expressed unhappiness over his son and Sant Kabir Nagar MP, Pravin Nishad, not being included in the mega reshuffle of the union cabinet.

Sanjay Nishad had then warned the BJP of "consequences in the upcoming Assembly poll".

Another leader reportedly considered but not included in the final list is former Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya, who is originally from UP. She had contested the 2007 Assembly election but lost.

Last week Yogi Adityanath expressed confidence the BJP would return to power in the state, winning an overwhelming majority in the election. The Chief Minister declared the "perception" about the state had changed and said he expects the BJP to win over 350 of the state's 403 seats.

"The perception about UP on the national stage has changed due to the united efforts of the people, the organisation, and the government. People's confidence in governance has increased... this belief will ensure our victory in the 2022 elections with an overwhelming majority of 350 seats," he said.

In 2017 the BJP won 325. The Samajwadi Party and its allies won 54 and the BSP 19 seats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a Lok Sabha MP from UP's Varanasi, lavished praise on Yogi Adityanath and his government this month, commending it for leading "the biggest development campaigns of the country" and holding it up as an example of the "double-engine" model.

The UP election is widely seen as test of the BJP's appeal at the state level, after relatively poor performances in other states. Earlier this year the BJP retained power in Assam but failed to make headway against Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, won zero seats in Kerala and lost in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier this month Yogi Adityanath was slammed for his 'abba jaan' comment, which was seen as a double-edged and crude swipe at both the minority Muslim community in UP and Akhilesh Yadav.

Mr Yadav responded with a swipe of his own, saying: "the BJP government is set to go... hence the Chief Minister's language has changed".

Next year's election also comes as a test of Yogi Adityanath's credentials after several BJP MPs and MLAs expressed concerns over accessibility and leadership in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.