In a blow to BJP ahead of polls, senior Minister quits U.P. Cabinet

OBC leader yet to reveal decision on quitting party; Akhilesh welcomes him to SP; Three other BJP MLAs said they would follow Mr. Maurya’s lead.

January 11, 2022 02:52 pm | Updated January 12, 2022 07:39 am IST - Lucknow

Senior OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya with Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. Photo: Twitter/@yadavakhilesh

Senior OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya with Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. Photo: Twitter/@yadavakhilesh

In a blow to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2022 Assembly election, senior OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya on Tuesday resigned from the State Cabinet, accusing the Yogi Adityanath-led government of neglecting Dalits, OBCs, farmers and the youth.

Three other BJP MLAs — two from the OBC bloc and one Dalit — said they were also leaving the BJP in support of Mr. Maurya and would follow his political lead. One of them, Brajesh Kumar Prajapati, MLA from Tindwari in Banda, has submitted his resignation letter from the BJP.

Soon after Mr. Maurya made public his resignation letter to Governor Anandiben Patel, which was yet to be accepted, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav tweeted an undated picture of himself with Mr. Maurya and “welcomed” the OBC leader and his supporters into his party.

Options open

However, while not denying future prospects with the SP, Mr. Maurya, who is yet to formally resign from the BJP, remained tight-lipped on his next move. He said he would make a formal decision on joining another party or staying on in after consultation with his workers and supporters.

His daughter Sanghamitra Maurya is a BJP MP from Budaun. She will continue to carry out her promise as MP of Budaun, said Mr. Maurya. “My decision has nothing to do with my son or daughter,” he said.

Sources said Mr. Maurya’s supporters backed a pre-poll alliance with the SP through the Loktantrik Bahujan Manch which he had formed after quitting the BSP in 2016 rather than being directly inducted into the SP.

“Now they will know the status of Swami Prasad Maurya. In the 2022 election, they will know what mass base I have. The party where I go to will form the government,” Mr. Maurya told reporters, throwing down the gauntlet to the BJP.

A five-time MLA, multiple-time minister, and sitting legislator from Padrauna in Kushinagar in Purvanchal, Mr. Maurya held the Labour, Employment and Coordination portfolio in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Maurya, who comes from the Kanshiram thread of Bahujan politics, said he had carried out his ministerial duties diligently despite “adverse circumstances” and ideological differences with the BJP.

BJP’s OBC vacuum

His departure comes as big loss to the BJP’s OBC gameplan in east and central U.P. as Mr. Maurya, who spent most of his life in the BSP, is considered a popular face among the most-backward castes especially the Maurya and Kushwaha communities he leads. If he joins the SP, it would come as a further boost to Akhilesh Yadav, who has already stitched key alliances with parties backed by the Maurya, Noniya Chauhan, Kurmi and Rajbhar OBC communities in eastern U.P.. The SP chief has worked assiduously to ensure wider acceptability among the numerically crucial and dominant OBCs whom the BJP has been aggressively wooing with welfare schemes, Hindutva discourse and representation.

Following Mr Maurya’s decision, Mr. Yadav welcomed him to the SP, hailing him as a leader who “fights for social justice and equality.”

“There will be a revolution of social justice, there where be a change in 2022,” Mr. Yadav said in his tweet in Hindi. Mr. Maurya, however, downplayed the photo.

MLA Brajesh Kumar Prajapati, who resigned in support of Mr. Maurya, said that in the past five years, Dalit, OBC and minority leaders were not given due respect or importance by the BJP government. Hailing Mr. Maurya as the “voice of the exploited,” Mr. Prajapati said, “he is my leader and I am with him.”

Three-time MLA from Tilhar (Shahjahanpur) Roshan Lal Verma said he would follow the course of action decided by Mr. Maurya. Bhagwati Sagar, a four-time Dalit MLA from Bilhaur in Kanpur Dehat, who was minister in three Mayawati governments, also said he was leaving the BJP and would follow Mr. Maurya, indicating a soft-corner for the SP.

Responding to the development, U.P. Deputy CM and BJP’s Maurya face from the RSS stable Keshav Prasad Maurya appealed to Mr. Swami Prasad Maurya to reconsider his decision and hold talks.

“Decisions taken in haste often prove to be wrong,” Mr. Keshav Prasad tweeted. Sidharth Nath Singh, BJP government spokesperson, was more critical.

He questioned Mr Swami Prasad Maurya’s claim to do politics of the backward castes when he was leaving the only party which works for Dalits, poor and farmers to ride the “punctured cycle of the SP”he said.

Mr. Maurya, who started his political career with the Yuva Lok Dal in Prayagraj, then Allahabad, in 1980 had enjoyed a stint as the State general secretary of the Janta Dal from 1991 to 1995 before he was appointed the BSP State general secretary in 1996. He has been a minister in the governments led by BSP chief Mayawati. A national general secretary of the BSP, he was also the leader of the Opposition during the last SP government.

However, in 2016, following differences with Ms. Mayawati on the issue of ticket distribution and her style of functioning, Mr. Maurya quit the BSP. Publicly he accused Ms. Mayawati of auctioning tickets and joined the BJP, which was by then in pole position to take advantage of the anti-incumbency wave against the Akhilesh Yadav government among the OBCs.

However, he has been among BJP leaders who have openly refused to name Mr. Adityanath as the face of the 2022 campaign. After his resignation from the Cabinet, he was careful not name any leader, merely saying his decision stemmed from “ideological discontent.”

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