A silent operation by the Bharatiya Janata Party to win over backward and Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh has roused strong resentment among local party leaders belonging to upper castes. The exercise, involving identification and promotion of backward and Dalit leaders in the state’s districts, is considered crucial to the BJP’s strategy for the state assembly elections due in 2017.

A senior BJP leader said, “The new leaders will be made the focal points of all electoral plans in the state once the identification exercise is over.” The strategy is the “brainchild” of Om Mathur, the BJP general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh. Mathur was tasked with putting the party in power in the crucial north Indian state after he, as the poll in-charge, delivered Maharashtra to the party for the first time.

In Uttar Pradesh, the saffron party’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly this year. While it put up an impressive show in the Lok Sabha elections, it fared miserably in the bypolls held there four months later.

Leaders sidelined

The new strategy, while still in its infancy, has already begun creating waves in the party’s rank and file in Uttar Pradesh. Though in private conversations the local leaders belonging to upper castes express their displeasure at the attempts to make them politically redundant, openly no one speaks out against the exercise launched directly by the central BJP leadership.

“So far we worked for the party, and now others are getting a chance,” Surya Pratap Shahi, a former BJP president of Uttar Pradesh and a known upper caste leader, told Scroll.in. “It will be good for the party if leaders from backward castes and Dalits come forward to take up the challenge.”

According to sources, Shahi is among the leaders feeling the heat of the on-going change in the state. Other prominent upper caste leaders likely to be kept out of the decision-making process for the 2017 elections include Ramapati Ram Tripathi, Om Prakash Singh, Kesari Nath Tripathi and Varun Gandhi.

“Murli Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh have already been shut out of Uttar Pradesh specific decisions,” said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.

Under the new exercise, sources said, the party is preparing a list of 15 young leaders who belong to other backward classes or the Dalit community in every district. In time, these leaders will be given assembly constituency-level command to lead the party in the 2017 polls.