BJP's Swami Prasad Maurya Joins SP: This is the Big Boost Akhilesh Yadav Needed
Two questions are important: Why did Swami Prasad Maurya quit BJP? What impact will this have on the elections?
The exit of senior minister Swami Prasad Maurya to the Samajwadi Party does seem to have shaken the BJP in Uttar Pradesh to some extent.
This was clear from deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya's tweet urging Swami Prasad Maurya to "sit and discuss" and not take any "decision in haste".
After meeting Maurya, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav tweeted, "Swami Prasad Maurya is a popular leader who fights for social justice and equality. We welcome him and the leaders and workers coming with him into the Samajwadi Party".
Now, two questions need to be answered here.
Why did Swami Prasad Maurya decide to quit the BJP and join the SP?
How does this change equations in the upcoming Assembly elections, especially regarding the SP's prospects?
WHY DID SWAMI PRASAD MAURYA QUIT BJP?
In his resignation letter, Maurya says that he has resigned in protest against the Yogi Adityanath government's "gross neglect towards Dalits, backward castes, farmers, unemployed youth and medium and small traders".
Maurya and his loyalists were seen as some sort of misfits in the BJP.
Those close to Maurya say that he never quite warmed up to the BJP's Hindutva politics, especially that of UP CM Yogi Adityanath.
"I fulfilled my responsibilities despite adverse circumstances and ideology" - Maurya writes in his resignation letter.
However, it is also true that at times, Maurya too played to the gallery, such as when he said that "Muslims use triple talaq to satisfy their lust".
A source in the BJP says that Maurya feared shrunken political space for himself and his loyalists if the party comes back to power in 2022.
"When he (Maurya) joined the BJP (in 2016), he played a key role in bringing certain caste groups into the BJP fold. Those groups voted for the BJP in 2017 and again in 2019. Maybe he feared that his clout would reduce now that the party is confident of retaining support on its own," says a BJP functionary in UP.
Maurya's supporters also speak on similar lines but they attribute it to "principle" and not "clout" or "fruits of power" as the BJP seems to be indicating.
"Even though he worked with BJP for five years, he essentially remained a politician coming from a social justice background and there was no space for that brand of politics in the BJP," said a supporter of Maurya.
When Maurya joined the BJP in 2016, it was seen as part of a rebellion against the domination of Yadavs and Jatavs in the SP and BSP respectively.
Leaders like Maurya and OP Rajbhar had hoped that their respective communities would get a better deal in the BJP than in the two social justice parties. However, what seems to have happened is that while the BJP provided some representation, it didn't really provide a share in the fruits of power beyond a point.
Also, there is a perception that even within these communities, the BJP would eventually want to put forward leaders from their own ideological stable.
This sentiment is clear in the resignation letter of Brajesh Prajapati, MLA from Tindwari in Banda district, who resigned in support of Maurya.
"In the five years of the BJP rule, representatives from Dalit, backward caste and minority communities were given no importance and didn't get the respect they deserved," Prajapati wrote.
It appears that Maurya and his supporters feel that the SP, which is trying to move beyond its Yadav-Muslim base with a strong push for a caste census and social equality - is the best vehicle for their politics.
HOW DOES THIS CHANGE POLL EQUATIONS? HOW MUCH DOES THE SP GAIN THROUGH MAURYA'S ENTRY?
Four MLAs have reportedly resigned along with Maurya:
Roshan Lal Verma - Tilhar (Shahjahanpur district)
Brajesh Prajapati - Tindwari (Banda district)
Bhagwati Prasad Sagar - Bilhaur (Kanpur district)
Vinay Shakya - Bidhuna (Auraiya district).
Maurya himself represents the Padrauna seat in Kushinagar district. At the very least, equations are likely to change in these five seats but the impact of Maurya's exit may be bigger as he's the tallest leader in his caste group.
Mauryas are part of the broader Kushwaha community. After Yadavs, Kurmis and Lodhs, they are said to be the most numerous OBC community.
There are two belts where they are said to be the most influential - in east UP districts like Kushinagar, Siddnarthnagar and Maharajganj. Then in the Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj districts of south west UP - where the Kushwahas are known as Shakyas.
In the second belt, Shakyas are the most numerous group after Yadavs.
As the community is traditionally associated with growing vegetables, often the Saini or Mali community gets allied with them in certain areas of West UP.
Maurya's entry into the SP is a significant boost for the party. So far, besides the addition of some Jat votes due to the alliance with the RLD and some increase in support from Rajbhars due to the SBSP, the major gains from SP were coming due to consolidation of anti-BJP votes.
Therefore, a big chunk of the gains were at the BSP and Congress' expense, especially among Muslim voters.
But if Maurya's entry brings a larger shift of key caste groups, it would mean a significant gain for the SP at the BJP's expense.
According to some estimates, it could change equations in 20-25 seats.
Of course, it won't be an easy transition. For instance, at least in the Etawah-Mainpuri belt, the BJP has successfully pit Shakyas against the domination of Yadavs. It remains to be seen if SP will be able to successfully reconcile the two.
A big gain for the SP would be in terms of narrative. Akhilesh Yadav's and Maurya's choice of words on Tuesday is important here - Yadav tweeted about "fight for social justice and equality" while Maurya and also Brajesh Prajapati blamed BJP for "neglect of Dalits, backward castes, farmers, unemployed youth and small and medium traders" in their resignation letters.
If SP is able to keep pushing this narrative, it could give the BJP serious reasons to worry.
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