LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh – The Bharatiya Janata Party over the past few weeks has been racked by protests over the choice of candidates for the U.P. Assembly polls. There is always disappointment felt by ticket aspirants who don't make the cut, but the prevailing discontent is chipping away at the morale of the party. The resentment continues to fester. There is unease about the spreading disquiet in the cadres who may not commit wholeheartedly to the campaign in the vital run up to the elections.
It was after a long time that Sunderlal Dixit of the BJP made some news, last week. Having been denied a ticket, the 72-year-old party loyalist expressed his anguish by prostrating himself before the car of Keshav Prasad Maurya, BJP's chief in U.P.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, a few days later, Dixit was close to tears. "I actually feel so sad that I want to die. There is no one who listens anymore," he said, his voice quivering. Dixit, who had won the Haiderganj seat in Barabanki twice in the 1990s, continued in a sarcastic vein: "But who am I to say anything. Just someone who built the BJP in Barabanki. But Amit Shah and Modi ji are bigger people, they have bigger brains."
It would be easy to dismiss Dixit as a sore loser. He has suffered a setback in his political life, but the emotions that overwhelm him now are more potent. None of his past troubles ever shook his resolve to campaign for the party. The 2017 polls is the first time that he will sit out entirely.
I actually feel so sad that I want to die. There is no one who listens anymore.
Dixit is not the only one. Forty-year old Manish Gupta said that he had been promised and then denied a ticket in the past three Assembly elections, but he had always pushed past his disappointment to continue working for the party. But 2017 was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Hours before the candidates were announced, senior leaders were assuring me that I would get the ticket. I met the respected Home Minister (Rajnath Singh) who told me to go and prepare. But in the end, they gave it to a complete outsider. He is not from this city, he is not from this party," said Gupta, lamenting the fact that the ticket from the Lucknow Central constituency has gone to Brijesh Pathak.
Pathak used to be a prominent Brahmin face of the BSP until he joined the BJP, seven months ago. He was the BSP Lok Sabha representative from Unnao, the district adjoining Lucknow.
Gupta, who is also a third generation RSS pracharak, has now broken with BJP and is confident about his chances as an independent candidate against Pathak. "There is considerable anguish among the workers. The atmosphere has changed. Mr. Amit Shah should think about that," he said.
There is considerable anguish among the workers. The atmosphere has changed. Mr. Amit Shah should think about that.
Three Words Are Doing The Rounds
BJP leaders who have served the party for a period of 20 to 30 years told HuffPost India that they had never seen such a backlash. They spoke about how the BJP high command was overly relying on Modi's pull and cold caste calculations, forgetting the human angle. There is a big difference in strategizing for the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, with MLAs seen as much closer to their constituents than MPs.
The BJP president Amit Shah had made it clear that those with a real chance of winning would be given tickets. He also told party workers that hard work would be recognized and rewarded. But BJP workers feel that several candidates who have been given tickets fulfill neither criteria.
Three words are doing the rounds in the BJP cadre: "survey", "chaploos" (sycophants) and "Ganesh parikrama" (always hanging around the big bosses).
The "survey" was an exercise conducted by the high command to determine which ticket seeker is the most popular, together with feedback from district level officials and inputs from senior leaders. But BJP workers and officials question the nomination of people who are either "outsiders" (recently joined the party), relatives of existing leaders or those who have never won an election.
Three words are doing the rounds in the BJP cadre: "survey", "chaploos" (sycophants) and "Ganesh parikrama".
In Ayodhya, BJP workers tied up the district president Awadesh Pandey Badal and Lok Sabha lawmaker Lallu Singh with ropes to protest against the selection of Ved Prakash Gupta, who recently came back to the BJP from the BSP. He has twice stood from Ayodhya, both from BSP and Samajwadi Party tickets, never winning.
In Amethi, hundreds of workers were enraged at the selection of Uma Shankar Pandey, a lawyer, who had served as the poll agent of Union Minister Smriti Irani in 2014 Lok Sabha election. Pandey was chosen over 72-year-old Tejbhan Singh, a dedicated RSS worker, who had won the Gauriganj Assembly in Amethi, thrice in the 1990s. BJP workers, who believe that Irani intervened on Pandey's behalf, recently burnt her effigy.
There have also been protests over the choice of candidates in Varanasi, Noida, Hamirpur and Lucknow.
Singh said that he had never witnessed such a backlash. "Nonsense survey. How could his (Pandey) name have come up in a survey when he had not even sought a ticket? Some person at the top has influenced this. People don't even know him here," he said.
In a recent conversation, Awadesh, the BJP district leader who suffered the embarrassment of being tied up, tried to justify the anger felt by the party workers. But he did not respond when this reporter asked him whether Gupta, the party-switching candidate from Ayodhya, was a good choice.
"When you lose a ticket to someone in the party, it pinches, but then you begin to get over it. You know, he is a brother with whom you have struggled. But when you lose to someone you don't know, well that is harder to bear," he said.
In Ayodhya, a BJP worker barely contained his anger over Gupta. "I could still understand if he was a winning candidate but he has no chance. He has never won from here. Are they trying to lose deliberately?" he asked.
Are they trying to lose deliberately?
Spirit Of The Campaign
So will all this impact on the spirit of the campaign? In the case of Ram Babu Dwivedi, it will. After spending three years working in the Ram Nagar constituency of Barabanki, the 35-year-old failed to get a ticket.
Dwivedi recently returned from Noida after canvassing for Pankaj Singh, Rajnath Singh's son, but confessed that his heart was not in it. "To tell you the truth, there are many people who are feeling confused and betrayed. I don't think anyone is really in the mood for campaigning," he said.
For the past three years, Dwivedi said that he had never stepped out of Ram Nagar for more than 24 hours, putting his work before his family. "I didn't know whether my children went to school or not, I was busy ensuring that other children could go to school," he said. "I spent so much money that I'm embarrassed to even tell you."
I don't think anyone is really in the mood for campaigning.
Dwivedi said that he followed Shah's instructions to the letter. In addition to his grassroots work, he even set about establishing himself on social media. "I have a Twitter account, an Instagram account, Google Plus, and Facebook. My following would be 40,000 on all the platforms. It wasn't easy but I did it because that is what the boss wanted," he said, sounding dejected.
When this reporter asked him if he had communicated his grievance to Shah, Dwivedi said, "I messaged him and I called him. I'm yet to hear back."
Anger At Amit Shah
The prevailing uncertainty and confusion over the choice of candidates has triggered various rumors from the selling of tickets for money to sabotage. "Kutch log chahate hain ki yahan par Gujarati damroo band ho jaye (some people want that the Gujarati drum should stop beating here)," a BJP worker told this reporter, on condition of anonymity.
The BJP worker said that he and his colleagues believed that their senior leaders resented Shah, a Gujarati, running the show in U.P. and that is why they had deliberately suggested the "wrong people" for the tickets. "If BJP loses UP, then Shah is out and eventually Modi. That is what they want," he said.
If BJP loses UP, then Shah is out and eventually Modi. That is what they want.
Veteran leaders such as Tejbhan Singh voice their anger against Shah more openly. "Amit Shah does not understand U.P. politics," he said. "He comes in a helicopter, does a meeting and takes off. He does not recognize us."
Singh believes that he was the first leader to have challenged the Congress Party's rule in Amethi and planted the BJP flag in the Gandhi family bastion. "We turned the tide against the Congress, but Amit Shah is turning the tide against us," he said.
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