After days of speculation, the BJP on August 25, 2022 appointed Bhupendra Singh, the Panchayati Raj Minister in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet as the Uttar Pradesh president of the party. He replaced Swatantra Dev Singh who resigned earlier this month.
Hailing from a Jat farmer family in Mahenderi Sikandarpur village of Moradabad district of Western Uttar Pradesh, Mr Singh, 54, has been an organisational man and is currently a member of the Legislative Council. The appointment is being seen as the ruling party’s effort to reach out to the Jat community which has been at the forefront of farmer protests in the sugarcane belt of the State. After Haryana and Rajasthan, Mr Singh is the third Jat leader that the BJP has catapulted to the position of state president.
Mr Singh was the regional in-charge of the party during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2017 Assembly elections and worked closely with the then party president Amit Shah. He is being seen as an RSS candidate who has the backing of the central leadership.
Party sources said, apart from his Jat farmer background, Mr Singh’s organisational skills and the party’s intent to strike an east-west balance in governance and organisation tilted the decision in his favour. Also, with Dharampal Saini appointed as the party general secretary (organisation), the party needed a Jat leader to balance the grassroot equation. “The Saini community has voted overwhelmingly for the party so it needs to be rewarded but at the same time the Jats needed to be wooed as well,” said a source.
Observers point out in the comprehensive victory of BJP in the Assembly polls, Moradabad and the adjacent Saharanpur division stood like sore thumbs. In Moradabad division, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance bagged 17 out of 27 seats while in Saharanpur they won nine of 16 seats, with seven of them coming from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, the epicentre of Jat Khaps. In several seats won by the BJP in these divisions the margin of victory was razor thin.
It indicated at the revival of the Jat-Muslim bonhomie that could become a headache for the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Interestingly, Mr Saini hails from Bijnor which falls in Moradabad division where SP-RLD and BJP won four seats each.
Mr Singh represents those Jats who started voting as Hindus after the Ram Temple Movement and has got the first mover’s advantage.
Dr Ajit Singh, professor at SSV College, Hapur, who has seen Mr Singh’s rise closely described him as a leader who has found acceptance beyond his community and has been awarded for his selfless service to the party. “After a short stint with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, he joined the BJP in 1991 when the party was not known to stand up for Jats and farmers. In 1999, he took on Mulayam Singh Yadav from Sambhal when not many in the party were ready to take on the force of SP.” Unlike the aggressive image of Jat leaders, he said, Mr Singh has a self-effacing demeanour that works well in a cadre-based party. “But behind the scenes, he is very effective.” From 2006-2017, Mr Singh has worked in west UP, first as regional secretary and then as regional president.
As a Panchayati Raj Minister (first with independent charge and then as cabinet minister), his work was hailed for getting a record number of toilets built as part of the PM’s ambitious Swachch Bharat Mission. According to UP government, the Panchayati Raj ministry has a crucial role to play in making all the 75 districts of the State open defecation free.
However, Rajpal Balyan, head of RLD’s legislative group in the assembly, said the appointment of Mr Jagdeep Dhankar and Mr Singh proved that “the BJP was living under the fear” of RLD and Bharatiya Kisan Union. “As a minister of the Panchayati Raj, he failed to control the farmers’ agitation. As the in-charge of Muzaffarnagar district, he could not stop SP-RLD alliance from winning four out of six seats in assembly polls. His appointment is an acknowledgment of our effective presence at the grassroots,” said the Budhana MLA.