Bharatiya Janata Party has exploded in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh where a section of backward and Dalit leaders of the saffron outfit have come out in the open, attacking Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for “trying to divide” the society.

“Rajnath Singh is trying to create a division among people belonging to backward and Dalit sections,” senior BJP leader Ramamkant Yadav, the former MP from Azamgarh and the party’s most prominent Yadav face in the state, told Scroll over phone. “This will harm not just the party but also the society,” he added.

The development, coming on the eve of the BJP’s national executive meeting due to be held at Allahabad on June 12-13, is seen as a severe setback for the party which has been trying hard to build electoral momentum in the state for the last couple of weeks, using the opportunity to celebrate Narendra Modi government’s two years in office.

Though the party has not taken any official position on whether it would project anyone as its chief ministerial candidate or whether it would have a chief ministerial face at all, speculation is rife that Rajnath Singh could play a lead role for the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh. The assembly polls in the state are scheduled to be held early next year.

Ramakant Yadav’s angry outburst came a day after Rajnath Singh addressed a rally at Mau on June 9. “The rally was named 'Pichhara, Atipichhara, Dalit Sammelan [The backward and most backward Dalit Gathering]' but sitting on the dais [along with Rajnath Singh] were mostly leaders belonging to Thakur and Brahmin castes (both are upper castes). All that they said was meant to divide backward and Dalit communities,” Yadav alleged. “If Singh is allowed to play his caste card, the BJP’s fate in the upcoming Assembly elections would be no different from what it experienced in the Assembly polls of 2002, 2007 and 2012,” he added.

Caste conflict

Yadav pointed out that BJP could win 176 seats in UP Assembly in 1997 because Other Backward Classes leader Kalyan Singh had been the party’s face, but that it won a mere 86 seats in 2002 when it contested under the leadership of Rajnath Singh. “The number kept falling in 2007 and 2012 Assembly elections as the party continued to project Rajnath Singh as its chief ministerial candidate. The number would fall further if he is allowed to lead the party in UP because backward and Dalits don’t trust him,” he asserted.

Yadav, the former MP from Azamgarh, is considered the BJP’s OBC strongman in Uttar Pradesh. In 2014 Lok Sabha election, as the BJP candidate, he had given a close fight to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Azamgarh seat. Though the SP leader won the election, Ramakant Yadav emerged as the BJP’s most prominent Yadav face in UP.

In his revolt, he is getting support from several OBC and Dalit leaders of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Daroga Prasad Saroj, former MP from Lalganj and one of the Scheduled Caste leaders of the BJP, is one of the most prominent among them. “What is happening in the party is unfortunate,” Saroj, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste called Passi, told Scroll. “I had told Amit Shah on June 6 at Delhi that party would suffer heavily if leaders of backward and Dalit sections are not given due respect. But what happened at the Mau rally gave me the impression that we [backward and Dalit leaders] are meant only to bring crowds for upper caste leaders in the party’s rallies.”

Many BJP party leaders admit that the revolt is a result of the mismanagement of the party in Uttar Pradesh by the central leadership at a time when there is a cut-throat competition among the state leaders for getting projected as the party’s face for the 2017 Assembly polls.

“Personal aspirations of various party leaders are soaring, and you need to handle them with care,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of complete anonymity. “The revolt might not have taken place had the central leadership not mismanaged the party unit in Uttar Pradesh where aspirations of several leaders have risen after the party’s victory in Assam. But who will tell this to our party president [Amit Shah]? Who will tell him that you can’t get the vote of backward and Dalits if you don’t put their leaders in the front?” said the BJP leader who happens to be Dalit.