In UP, is the BJP Pressuring Rajputs to Get Back Into the Fold?

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In UP, is the BJP Pressuring Rajputs to Get Back Into the Fold?

Long travels in UP in the past few weeks uncovered simmering discomfort and anger amongst what was a loyal and trusted BJP support base, the Rajputs. Their open expression of dissent has forced BJP’s top leaders to firefight. Will it work?

Narendra Modi is in firefighting mode and hinterland Thakurs are causing this political fire.

Ever since the news of their discomfort and near-withdrawal from the Modi camp has been doing the rounds, Modi has been on the back foot. Amit Shah is reported to have been forced to step in and pay attention to Thakurs.

The trigger was cabinet minister and Rajkot candidate, Parhsottam Rupala accusing Rajputs of “marrying their daughters to the British” and “working with the British” – roti-beti ka saath.  This sparked protests in Gujarat and in other parts of North India. Other issues, like the sidelining of Thakur candidates from Madhya Pradesh seats and the removal of key leaders like V.K. Singh and Narendra Singh Tomar from Uttar Pradesh surfaced as sore points.

The alleged sidelining of Rajnath Singh over the past 10 years, is also something the Rajput base has been irked about. The perceived attack on Rajput cultural icons like Raja Bhoj and finally, a perception that Delhi BJP’s top leaders want to clip the wings of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath appear to have goaded the Thakurs into coming out in open rebellion. Adityanath supporters taking cues from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh say they fear that if Modi is re-elected and emerges as strengthened after June 4, Adityanath will be removed from office and replaced with a faceless loyalist.

Adding fuel to the fire, is the rural dynamics of key states like UP, where traditional rivalry of Rajputs with Brahmins appears to have re-emerged. A perception that BJP is picking other  ‘caste favourites’ is upsetting influential Thakurs in rural pockets and the result has been inter-caste dissension in these areas.

Cognisant of trouble, a bid to douse the flames is on. The party establishment appears to have started from the top. Rajnath Singh who has been not so vocal and public in the past 10 years – even on his own portfolio, relating to matters of defence – has suddenly been pushed to the forefront with his comments on Pakistan and Kashmir.  Until now, it was Modi who was commenting on defence matters and had a final say in defence deals too, but out of the blue, Rajnath is speaking again on a variety of issues like PoK, to “one nation one elections”, “Navy miracles” and “Congress is dividing Hindu and Muslims”. The surprising thing was that all of these things came out in one day. It almost seemed like Rajnath Singh had been given a day pass!

Rajnath Singh was reportedly also sent to Uttar Pradesh to pacify the Thakurs, and also Adityanath supporters, and give them assurances. Reports are that voters remain sceptical as promises made during the storms are often forgotten when the crisis subsides.

But that is not all. There is also some realpolitik at play.

Jaunpur is a good example, where Dhananjay Singh has been in the spotlight. His wife Sri Kala Reddy Singh, was Bahujan Samaj Party candidate and a popular one with a high probability of a clean sweep against the BJP candidate. But only two days ago, suddenly, BSP dropped her name and decided in favour of another candidate. Voters are still puzzled as to why the BSP would act against its own interests. Analysts and reports are pointing towards a potential deal between the BSP and BJP which may have resulted in this.

BJP has also galvanised their local cells to start an aggressive outreach campaign. Many of the Thakur voters in Meja (Allahabad), a constituency, for instance, claimed that since 2019 BJP had taken them for granted and they were not part of BJP’s focus this election. Only once Rajputs across the country started the stir did the BJP begin the outreach.

As part of the BJP’s fire brigade, Amit Shah is believed to have held closed door meetings with Rajput leaders, trying to bend them to BJP’s will. This includes Ayodhya Samajwadi Party MLA Abhay Singh. He is the lone SP legislator in Ayodhya, but seems to be warming up to the BJP, say analysts, citing that several of his family members have joined the BJP.

The last remedial measures to pacify the Rajputs and curtail Adityanath’s influence is the tightening of the leash around Pratapgarh strongman, ‘Raja Bhaiya’ Raghuraj Pratap Singh. Amit Shah had called Raja Bhaiya for a meeting in Bengaluru. What transpired in the one-hour meeting is hard to tell, but it raises some questions. Raja Bhaiya is already a supporter of the BJP agenda. He is also known for his closeness to Adityanath. In past years, he has broken with the Samajwadi Party and used his ‘influence’, and his close legislators to vote for the BJP’s presidential candidates. He has visibly sided with the BJP on many issues of his own accord.

So why did Amit Shah call him personally? The speculation is it may have had something to do with Adityanath and to try and check his influence. Raja Bhaiya commands respect in the Thakur community, and Modi-Shah, apart from his electoral support in Pratapgarh and Kausambhi areas, may want to pitch him against Adityanath. A ‘spilt Thakur base’ between Adityanath and Raja Bhaiya could work to reduce Adityanath’s influence, they feel and at the same time cause a schism in the community. Raja Bhaiya is yet to make a public statement on this.

Many of those who were supporters of Yogi and the BJP brand say that “Modi-Shah are now beginning to understand the importance of the Thakur vote and community finally.” They say this is evident as they are using power as well as persuasion to woo the community back again. Most wonder if the descendants of Ram, Prithviraj and Rana Pratap will actually fall for last-minute promise.

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