UP & Punjab Cabinet Expansions Show BJP and Cong’s Opposite Strategies
While the BJP in UP rewarded only loyal voters, Congress’s Punjab Cabinet expansion is aimed at more inclusivity.
Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh and Charanjit Singh Channi in Punjab carried out Cabinet expansions on Sunday (26 September), four months ahead of the state polls next year. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh aims to consolidate its core vote block, Congress hopes to create a balance between different factions with this rejig. Both parties hope that this exercise will reap them electoral dividends.
BJP's 'Exclusive' Club
In the Hindi heartland state, the BJP inducted seven ministers to fill up vacancies. The prime catch from Congress, Jitin Prasada, was inducted along with other BJP faces belonging to its anchor voting segments.
While the BJP raised the slogan of sabka saath sabka vishwas in 2017, this expansion has been pointed, appointing only ministers of groups that are its main/loyal voters.
The ministers include one Brahmin, three Non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (NYOBC), one Jatav and one Non-Jatav Scheduled Caste (Dalit), and one Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidate. Brahmins, NYOBC, and Non-Jatav SC account for around 50% of the population of the state.
62% upper caste, 58% NYOBC and 37% non-Jatav SCs voted for BJP in the 2017 Assembly election. This increased to 77%, 76% and 60%, respectively, in the 2019 general election.
It has left Yadavs (backers of Samajwadi Party), Jats (spearheading farmers agitation), and Muslims with a clear message that those who don’t vote for the party will not be rewarded.
The party also snubbed allies Nishad Party and Apna Dal, who were rooting for a representation in the cabinet. With reported COVID-19 cases under control and a rise in vaccinations, the party is now much more confident of victory than it was a few months ago, when it was under fire for mishandling the COVID-19 crisis.
It doesn't need to further appease and accommodate allies. Anupriya Patel from Apna Dal is already a Union Cabinet Minister and Sanjay Nishad was nominated as an MLC recently. By appointing Sangita Kumari Bind, the party has attempted to nurture its own Nishad leadership.
Rewarding Only Loyal Voters
Out of the three OBC ministers, one is from the Kurmi community, one from Prajapati, and one from Nishad. The BJP has also given representation to a tribal leader, Sanjeev Kumar Gond, though STs are just 0.1% of the state population and there is no reserved seat for the community in the UP Assembly.
The party, by naming a Jatav as minister, has also given a signal that they need to move out of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-fold, which is fast losing relevance in the state, and join the BJP’s bandwagon, just like the non-Jatavs, in order to get proper representation and for the protection of their rights.
Mayawati is visibly perturbed with this expansion and accused the BJP of trying to mobilise voters based on caste.
With this expansion, backward classes, SC/ST, and minorities now account for 55% of Yogi’s Cabinet, while upper-caste accounts for 45%. This is broadly in line with the support party receives from these communities.
In Punjab, Congress is Putting Out Fires
Congress replaced Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi as Chief Minister in a major reshuffle in Punjab. The Congress is facing anti-incumbency due to non-performance and non-fulfilment of its manifesto promises such as punishing the sacrilege perpetrators and ending the drug menace.
The party hopes that with a Dalit Sikh as Chief Minister, it will be able to stop the Aam Aadmi Party from making further inroads and retain power in a state that follows a revolving-door model, with governments changing every five years. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine had broken this trend in 2012.
The party aims to drop the Amarinder baggage, negate anti-incumbency and start afresh with this new Cabinet formation. It dropped a few loyalists of Captain and inducted fresh faces from the Sidhu camp. While seven new ministers were appointed, five leaders from the Captain’s Cabinet have been dropped.
However, factionalism and weak leadership ensured that the entire ministry could not be replaced, as was done by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat.
The party has focused on giving representation to all major caste groups and regions and not just its traditional support blocks. This is a bid to woo voters from all communities.
Two Contrasting Styles
While the objective of both the expansions is to help the BJP and the Congress retain UP and Punjab, it underlines two contrasting styles.
The UP cabinet expansion has been carried out from a position of strength. However, the expansion in Punjab has been carried out from a position of weakness.
While there have been no murmurs in the BJP camp, Cabinet expansion was a source of major discontent among several Congress MLAs.
Hours before the rejig, a group of ministers in the previous Amarinder Singh government questioned the apparent decision to drop them.
The expansion in Punjab is more inclusive and gives space to all communities, while the expansion in UP adopts an exclusive strategy. Only loyal voters of BJP have got representation.
While Rahul held deliberations and was fully involved, Yogi left out former Gujarat bureaucrat and Narendra Modi aide A.K. Sharma from the expansion.
Crowdwisdom360, a public prediction platform, foresees a tight contest in Punjab but a comfortable victory for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
It remains to be seen how this pans out over the next few months.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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