In a crucial expansion of the Uttar Pradesh cabinet – which comes just months before Assembly polls in the state, ex-Congress leader Jitin Prasada was among several new faces inducted into Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s team.
Jitin Prasada was once a close associate of Rahul Gandhi and the party’s top Brahmin face in UP before he swapped parties in June.
Mr Prasada’s entry was meant to help the BJP reset the optics of the Yogi Adityanath government, perceived by a section of state’s Brahmins as being pro-Thakur (the Chief Minister’s caste).
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.
In July last year, Mr Prasada launched a “Brahmin Chetna Parishad” but it had little impact.
Also considered among those most likely to be inducted is Bahedi MLA Chatrapal Gangwar, a two-time lawmaker and Paltu Ram – a first-time MLA from Balrampur Sadar who used to be with the BSP.
Sanjeev Kumar Diwakar – another first-time MLA, this time from Jalesar in UP’s Etah district – is also expected to join the cabinet, as is Dinesh Khateek – the Hastinapur MLA from western UP’s Meerut.
Dharmveer Prajapati – a MLC from western UP’s Agra – is also expected to be sworn in.
Chatrapal Gangwar and Dharmveer Prajapati are from OBC communities, while Paltu Ram, Sanjeev Kumar Diwakar and Dinesh Khateek are from Scheduled Castes.
Dr Sangeeta Balwant Bind – a first-time MLA from Ghazipur Sadar – is also on the ‘most likely’ list. Dr Bind is also from an OBC community.
Sanjay Nishad of the Nishad Party, which is an ally of the BJP, was earlier also considered likely to be included, but is now not expected to join the cabinet,
A few months earlier Mr Nishad, who is from the OBC community, 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 earlier warned the BJP of “consequences in the upcoming Assembly poll”.
Another leader earlier on the list of probables is former Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya, who is originally from UP. She had contested the 2007 Assembly election but lost.
Tejpal Nagar – the MLA from western UP’s Dari seat – and Dr Sanjay Gond – a first-time MLA from eastern UP’s Obra – are among those considered less likely to be called up to the new cabinet.
Last week Yogi Adityanath expressed confidence that 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 that he expected 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.
Next year’s UP election also comes as a test of Yogi Adityanath’s credentials from within the party, after several BJP MPs and MLAs expressed concerns over his accessibility and leadership in the light of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerns were also raised about reports that the Brahmin community felt sidelined by the Yogi Adityanath government. In that respect, Jitin Prasada is likely to receive a visible post in the reshuffle.