Bengaluru: The BJP on Friday named first-time MP Keshav Prasad Maurya — who once sold tea — to head the party in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa as the new president in Karnataka, its strongest southern base.
The Bharatiya Janata Party also named new presidents in Punjab (Vijay Sampla), Telangana (K. Laxman) and Arunachal Pradesh (Tapir Gao), general secretary Arun Singh told the media.
Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will face assembly polls in 2017 and Karnataka in 2018. Maurya used to sell tea and newspapers for a living during childhood. An OBC leader, he was also a full-timer with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for 14 long years.
He replaced Lakshmikant Bajpayi. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Maurya won the Phulpur seat for the BJP for the first time since independence by over three lakh votes.
The seat was once represented in the Lok Sabha by first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru as well as V.P. Singh before he became the prime minister.
Maurya’s appointment is widely seen as the BJP’s decision to go aggressive in Uttar Pradesh, which the party is determined to win using a mix of the Hindutva and caste cards besides the Narendra Modi factor. After sweeping 71 of its 80 Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh in 2014, the BJP has seen ups and downs in assembly by-elections.
It wants power in the state so that it can help gain majority in the Rajya Sabha. Sampla, the new Punjab BJP chief, is a Dalit and now the minister of state for social justice in the Modi government.
Once a plumber, he started his political journey as the sarpanch of his Sofi village in Jalandhar. He held several key posts in the BJP in Punjab and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 from Hoshiarpur.
BJP sources told IANS that the name of former cricketer and BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu was also considered for the post but Sidhu, who doesn’t enjoy the best of relations with the Akalis, declined the offer.
The BJP had been looking for a new — and Dalit — face in Punjab, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged as a major force and is known to be aggressively wooing the Sikh Dalit votes.
Yeddyurappa, a prominent Lingayat community leader, was the frontrunner for the post of Karnataka party chief after the Supreme Court declined in 2015 to revoke a Karnataka High Court order putting on hold his prosecution in a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Yeddyuruppa resigned in 2011 as chief minister following charges of involvement in illegal mining. In July 2012, he quit the BJP and formed his own party but returned to the party fold in January 2014 — as Modi consolidated his grip.
The Karnataka leader is a national vice president of the party. BJP legislator K. Laxman will head the party in Telangana, the country’s youngest state.
And in Arunachal Pradesh, where the BJP recently toppled a Congress government, Lok Sabha member Tapir Gao will head the party.