A senior BJP leader said the party leadership wanted to develop a line of OBC leaders, which they have lacked so far
With assembly elections just over a year away, the Chhattisgarh BJP is turning its focus on the OBC community in the state, evidenced by the appointment of member of parliament Arun Sao as the state president, replacing Vinshu Dev Sai.
Party leaders said that the BJP is wary of the OBCs in Chhattisgarh, that make up around 45% of the state’s population, throwing their weight behind Congress chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, who has pushed the regional and OBC card assiduously during his term in power.
A senior BJP leader said the party leadership wanted to develop a line of OBC leaders, which they have lacked so far.
The party is generally seen to have two major factions, one led by Raman Singh, a Thakur, and the other by former agriculture minister Brijmohan Agrawal.
“We are expecting more changes in the next couple of months. The senior leaders are convinced that the party needs strong OBC leaders in Chhattisgarh which are very few. Most of the OBC leaders are guided by other influential upper caste leaders hence the party needs a strong face.
Secondly, the OBC leaders are trapped in factions and hence are not influential,” said a senior BJP leader.
Sao, the leader said, is a loyal organisation man despite only being a first-time member of parliament, and not seen as aligned to any faction.
In Chhattisgarh, OBC’s account for around 45% of the over 2.5crore population, tribals constitute 33% and scheduled castes are around 13%.
Since the formation of the state in the year 2000, BJP had put its faith mostly on tribal faces to lead the party in the state.
Previous presidents include tribal leaders like Nandkumar Sai, Ramsevak Paikra, Vikram Usendi and Vishnudeo Sai.
Among the OBC leaders the party has put in senior positions are Leader of Opposition Dharamlal Kaushik and the late Tarachand Sahu, a former MP, who had also served as party president.
Some leaders said the BJP will be able to leverage tribal voters by the appointment of Droupadi Murmu as the President of India.
“The organisation believes that after targeting tribal voters of the state by appointing a tribal as President of India, our party must now focus on OBC voters. A section of leaders in BJP believe that the party is trying to establish another front parallel to former chief minister Raman Singh. Changing the tribal BJP president with the OBC may create a rift between tribal leaders and others but the party is working on it. “We believe that OBC voters will vote us back in this election,” said another BJP leader.
On Tuesday, after his appointment, Raman Singh congratulated Sao and said the BJP leaders and workers will work with full dedication under his leadership to bring the party back to power in the state.
Political commentators believe that in the last assembly elections in 2018, the shift of the OBC votes rattled the BJP.
“Sao is basically a Sahu (teli) which is a dominant OBC class in Chhattisgarh. The other dominant class of the state is Kurmi from which CM Bhupesh Baghel comes. Also, the Sahu voters of the state are mostly BJP supporters but in the last elections they shifted,” said Harsh Dubey, a political commentator based in Raipur.
Meanwhile, chief spokesperson of BJP and former minister, Ajay Chandrakar, who also comes from OBC community, believes that the party is working as a team.
“We are developing a team which will counter Bhupesh Baghel’s politics. We did not identify any leader with their caste in BJP. The aim is to cater to every section of the society,” said Chandrakar, who was appointed chief spokesperson a week ago.
“Firstly, removing the tribal leader from the spot of state president with an OBC face on World Tribal Day reflects the anti-adivasi thinking of the BJP. Secondly, we believe in the politics of welfare and social justice. Our party president is tribal, the CM belongs to OBC and similarly every community has been given equal representation. The BJP should work on their infighting first,” said RP Singh, Congress spokesperson.