Mathura: “BJP Sarkar banayegi aur Shrikant Sharma mukhymantri banega, isliye ham to usi ko vote denge,” (BJP will form the government and Shrikant Sharma will become chief minister), says 28–year-old Arun Verma when asked who he will vote for in Mathura. Verma is not alone in his views; the majority of people I spoke to believe Sharma, the BJP’s candidate from Mathura, is the party’s chief ministerial pick for UP.
When the BJP announced its first list of 143 candidates recently, Mathura was in for a surprise. Although more than 20 candidates had sought a ticket from Mathura, all were sidelined for Sharma, the party spokesperson. The BJP high command’s decision to bypass seasoned leaders like former nagar palika chairman Ravindra Pandey and former district president D.P. Goyal in favour of Sharma, a Delhi-based leader, is thought to have been motivated by their inclination to push him for the top job in the state.
Originally from the Goverdhan area of the district, Sharma, the son of a teacher, comes from a humble background. After being associated with ABVP at Delhi University, he reportedly grew close to finance minister Arun Jaitley, and then to party chief Amit Shah, who elevated him to the rank of national secretary.
But just how did he qualify for the chief minister’s post in a vast and extremely political state like UP?
“Since he is a Brahmin with ABVP background, the RSS would approve of his name, and being a Delhi-based leader with no mass base would make him a favourite of the Modi camp, who would not like a strong leader for the top post,” a BJP leader told me, on condition of anonymity.
Another factor that is in Sharma’s favour is that other BJP contenders for the post, like Yogi Adityanath, lack the flexibility needed to administer a state like UP, while people like Kalraj Mishra are too old and those like home minister Rajnath Singh are too strong.
An ‘outsider’ as chief minister?
But there are many who consider this just a clever trick to win a tough election. “Abhi aisi koi ghoshna nahin hai, ye to khali chunaav jitney ka hathkanda hai,” (There is no such official declaration, it’s a trick to win elections), says ex-MLA and BJP leader Pranat Pal Singh.
A majority of BJP sympathisers I spoke to in Mathura agreed that Sharma is being perceived as a bahari (outsider) by quite a few people and a local candidate would have been better.
Not all are happy with the way things are working right now. A local BJP leader, on condition of anonymity says the party cadres are unhappy with the ticket distribution. “Two persons from other parties and one Delhi-based leader got tickets here, due to which there is extreme dissatisfaction in the activists,” he says. This is believable as the “would be chief minister” propaganda is being pushed by those in the party who are close to Sharma.
The “two persons from other parties” mentioned are Chaudhry Laxminaran, the BJP’s candidate from the Chata seat who was agriculture minister in the Bahujan Samaj Party government in 2007, and Puran Prakash, a sitting RLD MLA who joined the BJP just a few months ago and got a party ticket from the Baldev SC seat.
Goyal tries to counter this. “Laxminaran has joined party since last two-and-a-half years, while Puran came to party months before elections and Shrikant [Sharma] is a committed BJP worker, so there is no problem with the tickets,” he says.
Even if he is the BJP’s preferred candidate for the job, Sharma will not find it easy to win the Mathura seat. Veteran Congress leader and sitting MLA Pradeep Mathur, who is backed by the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, is making it a close contest, as besides minority voters, he also has a hold among common city voters across castes.
Adding to Sharma’s problems is Ashok Aggarwal, a SP candidate in 2012 who has since rebelled against the party and is likely to contest from Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). “Aggarwal was very active during past five years and got many things sanctioned for the city due to closeness with the SP government. He will definitely get people’s sympathy this time,” says local journalist Upendra Tripathi. Both Mathur and Aggarwal are expected to cut into the BJP’s Brahmin-Baniya vote banks in the city.
The BJP’s poll prospects are further challenged by the fact that numerically-dominant Jat voters in the district are comparatively closer to the RLD here than the Muzaffarnagar-Meerut area. The party won three seats in last elections and is fielding candidates on all seats this time too.
Whether Sharma is truly the BJP’s candidate for chief minister, the party is in for a tough contest for most of seats in Mathura, where it failed to open its account in the 2012 elections.
Rajan Pandey is an independent journalist and author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.