BJP’s new Kurmi caste mascot: Anupriya Patel

Despite the claims to the contrary, it looks like caste has a big part to play in today’s expansion

ByAnurag Tripathi
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BJP’s new Kurmi caste mascot: Anupriya Patel
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Leader of Apna Dal and first time Member of Parliament (MP), Anupriya Patel is a new face in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers. With more than eight per cent of Kurmi voters in Uttar Pradesh, Patel’s inclusion is seen as a deft move by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategists. BJP already has veteran Vinay Katiyar and Santosh Gangwar, the two Kurmi leaders of the state  in its posse. Patel, who is a 35-year-old management graduate, further strengthens BJP’s stake with Kurmi voters.

Chances are, Patel’s inclusion has been decided with an eye to the 2017 assembly polls in UP. With Vinay Katiyar and Santosh Gangwar’s popular appeal on the wane in their core constituency, BJP has major plans for Patel.  With age and education by her side, Patel is probably going to be the party’s Kurmi mascot.

The Gameplan

As per the data provided by the Election Commission, Kurmi voters are present in almost in all the 403 assembly constituencies of the state.  However, in 16 districts including Sant Kabir Nagar, Mirzapur, Sonbhadra, Bareily, Jalaun, Unnao, Fatehpur, Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Sitapur, Bahraich, Sarawasti, Balrampur, Siddhartnagar and Basti, the might of Kurmi voters is considerable. Here, the percentage of Kurmi voters is between 6 to 11 percent — enough to swing a vote.

The roadmap for merging the Apna Dal faction led by Anupriya Patel — the other opposing faction is led by her mother — with BJP was planned after the emphatic surge of seats that BJP won in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, in UP. A last-minute alliance with Patel’s faction helped BJP corner Kurmi votes in more than 16 districts. Led by Patel herself , local Kurmi leaders of Varanasi were also instrumental in swinging a major chunk of their caste votes in favour of Modi.

Newslaundry has learnt that Modi wanted Patel to be inducted in the first list of cabinet formation, but Amit Shah suggested the PM wait for the right time. Shah’s strategy is clearly on point: what could be a better time to gift Patel a ministerial birth than before a build-up to the UP assembly elections?

Apparently, it was Shah who meticulously planned and timed this  induction to send a message to BJP’s existing leaders and cadres. Shah believes an undivided Kurmi vote bank in BJP’s favour could help him realise his long-cherished dream of winning UP assembly elections. On July 2, which happens to be the 67th birth anniversary of Patel’s father and the original Apna Dal’s founder, a “Jan Swabhiman” rally was held in Varanasi. Here, Apna Dal and BJP leaders shared the dias, making it clear that there was an alliance between the two. If numbers are any indication of success and failure of a political rally, then Patel did fairly well to bring in her supporters at a platform.

By siding with Patel’s faction of Apna Dal, BJP gained confidence of Kurmi voters and also countered Bihar chief minister’s Nitish Kumar political plan to align Kurmi voters with almost non-existent Janta Dal United (JDU) in UP. Kumar, who is a Kurmi himself and has Patel’s mother on his side, started his campaign in UP by launching a rally in May this year.  As BJP president, Shah’s strategy was to use Patel’s ‘Jan Swahiman’ rally of July 2 to send a message to Kurmi voters that she and BJP are the acutal “messiahs”. Shah called Kumar a “vote katwa”  and urged Kurmi voters to stand united and steer clear of leaders who want to divide their votes.

The history of Apna Dal

Once a trusted lietutenant of Kanshi Ram, Dr Sone Lal Patel was instrumental in laying down the foundation of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).  However, after Kanshi Ram took a backseat and Mayawati took the reins of the BSP, Patel was sidelined and on November 4, 1995, he launched his own outfit and named it Apna Dal. This newly-formed political outfit made its political debut from Benia Bagh in Varanasi and although its first rally was a major success, Apna Dal failed to make much of a mark in UP, primarily because of division of votes of Kurmi caste.

For the 2014 general elections, Apna Dal entered the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and won two seats – Mirzapur and Pratapgarh. However, an internal rift within the party resulted in mother Krishna Patel expelling Anupriya from Apna Dal on May 7, 2015, for “anti-party activities”.

“Krishna Patel might claim her rights on Apna Dal, but when Dr Patel was alive, he always wanted his daughter to take the party forward,” Dr Ashok Dixit, columnist and political commentator from Mirzapur, told Newslaundry.

Looking forward

Tying up with Apna Dal and giving Patel a ministerial birth may be a step in the direction of securing Kurmi votes, but there are other factors that might put spanner in BJP’s works. The biggest challenge Patel will face when she steps out campaigning will be Beni Prasad Verma, the other powerful and influential Kurmi leader in UP.  He was a key leader in 2009, when Congress won 22 Lok Sabha seats from UP.  Verma left Samajwadi Party (SP) to join Congress in 2009 and is now back to SP. Patel also faces a challenge from her own mother, who with Nitish Kumar could prove a potent combination to split Kurmi votes in the state.

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