In the run-up to the Assembly elections next year, seven new names aiming at caste consolidation have been added in the latest round of cabinet expansion in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The list comprises a Brahmin face, three from Other Backward Classes (OBCs), two from Scheduled Castes (SCs) and one from Scheduled Tribes.
Caste balancing on the same lines was done during the rejig of the Union Cabinet recently when seven names from UP comprised a Brahmin, three OBCs and three ministers from SCs.
Former Congress leader Jitin Prasada, once considered close to Rahul Gandhi, switched sides to join Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has been suitably rewarded. He has been given the only cabinet berth in the expansion.
Prasada's elevation in the party and now in the cabinet has dashed hopes of other Brahmin leaders in BJP, such as Laxmikant Bajpai, who have been on the sidelines, waiting for their turn. Party sources claim there is brewing discontent over Prasada's elevation but it is seen as the party's step forward to address the alleged anti-BJP sentiment among Brahmins.
Dinesh Khatik, BJP MLA from Hastinapur in Meerut, secured a minister of state position in the cabinet expansion. Earlier, in February this year, Khatik was booked for abetment of suicide of a lawyer in Meerut.
The incident had triggered a massive protest by lawyers in the city who demanded action against the BJP legislator. The growing outrage against Khatik had put the party in a tough spot, though his elevation has now silenced his critics.
Khatik holds considerable sway on Dalit voters in the region and his inclusion is seen as party consolidating its hold in west UP.
Rohilkhand region, which once saw representation in both Union and State Cabinet, was missing in action since BJP MP Santosh Gangwar was dropped from Union Cabinet while BJP MLA Rajesh Agrawal and Dharmpal Singh were shown door from the state Cabinet.
Chatrapal Singh Gangwar, BJP MLA from Baheri in Bareilly district, has now been appointed as minister of state in the fresh state Cabinet expansion. Rohilkhand region is one of BJP's backyard, and state leadership would like to retain its sway in the region, especially considering the dominating presence of Kurmi and other OBC voters in several legislative assemblies in the Bareilly region.
Another interesting inclusion in the UP cabinet expansion is of Sangeeta Balwant Bind. She started her career with BSP but later BJP leader Manoj Sinha brought her to BJP's fold and was given ticket to contest from Ghazipur Sadar seat in 2017. She delivered on the trust bestowed by the party leadership and her elevation as minister of state is seen as party making itself fighting fit in an important region close to the VVIP constitutency – Varanasi.
BJP leader Paltu Ram, MLA from Balrampur Sadar seat, has also secured a berth in the cabinet expansion. Considered a grassroot worker, Ram's stars aligned in 2017 when he was trusted as party's candidate from Balrampur Sadar seat. He delivered and now his elevation as minister in the Yogi Cabinet is directly linked to party trying to woo Dalit (non-Jatav) voters.
BJP MLA Sanjeev Kumar Gond is among the seven names who found place in the expansion. He is the only BJP MLA from ST community in this state and successfully contested from Obra legislative constituency in Sonbhadra district in 2017. His inclusion is seen as party trying to woo Adivasi voters.
The last name in the cabinet expansion is of Dharmveer Prajapati. A native of Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh, Dharam Veer, BJP MLC from Agra, was associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for quite some time before he entered into active politics. He has served BJP at important positions in the party and his induction in the cabinet is aimed at consolidating OBC voters in the region.
Mystery Over Sanjay Nishad, AK Sharma
BJP had recently announced it will go to polls with Nishad party in alliance. Post this development, speculation of Sanjay Nishad's induction in Yogi Cabinet was doing rounds in the political corridor, however he had to make peace with BJP making him MLC.
Something very similar had happened with BJP MLC AK Sharma who was rumoured to be getting an important post in the state Cabinet though he was later made party's deputy chief in the state. Speculations were also afoot that the former IAS, AK Sharma, considered to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's man in Gujarat, was slated to get a ministerial berth but Adityanath vetoed it.
Another important takeaway from the Cabinet expansion is that the party might be wary of caste census but is trying to strike a caste balance before the important election, which is seen as litmus test for the BJP trying to retain the state.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath, unlike some of his counterparts in other BJP-ruled states who could not complete their terms, is trying to send a message that he is in control of things in the state, though last-minute reshuffle and caste balancing could be seen as attempt to avert a crisis situation.