The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to nominate lightweight leaders and rank outsiders for the upcoming Rajya Sabha election has not gone down well with the ruling party’s rank and file. It is apparently little consolation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have picked the candidates with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the forthcoming Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The 18 candidates for the March 23 election announced on Sunday include Narayan Rane, a Congressman until not very long ago, as well as Ashok Bajpai and Harnath Singh Yadav, who both moved from the Samajwadi Party.

Moreover, senior leaders such as Sudhanshu Trivedi, Arun Singh and N Shankarappa have been ignored in favour of fairly “junior functionaries” such as GVL Narasimha Rao and Anil Baluni. This carries Shah’s imprint since Rao, a party spokesperson, and Baluni, the head of the party’s media department, are known for their proximity to the BJP chief as is another candidate, Anil Jain. In contrast, Trivedi, Arun Singh and Ajay Sancheti, who was denied renomination, are said to be close to Rajnath Singh.

Originally with the Shiv Sena, Rane joined the Congress in 2005, but left last year to float his own party called the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksh. Although he soon joined the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP, Rane languished on the political margins as the BJP’s Maharashtra leaders were reluctant to bring him into the party. Apparently realising that he was growing impatient, Modi and Shah decided to give Rane a Rajya Sabha berth before he could do damage by campaigning against the party. The BJP is banking on Rane to shore up its presence in Maharashtra’s Konkan region, where he has substantial following.

National People’s Party chief Kirodi Lal Meena’s nomination from Rajasthan appears to be informed by similar calculations. As the recent bye-polls showed, the BJP’s popularity in the state is declining ahead of the Assembly election later this year. Meena had walked out of the BJP in 2008 and rejoined the party two days ago. Through him, the BJP hopes to reach out to the influential Meena community in southern Rajasthan.

GVL Narasimha Rao is a BJP spokesperson. Photo credit: Facebook/GVLNRAO

Caste calculus

Nominating Bajpai and Yadav is keeping with Shah’s policy of recruiting caste leaders from other parties who can help the BJP expand its footprint, the party’s officials explained. The BJP expects that sending Bajpai and Yadav to the Rajya Sabha would help persuade their caste groups, in time for the next general election no less, that the party is looking out for their interests.

While Bajpai and Yadav getting the nod can be explained thus, many senior BJP leaders said they are unable to fathom why Rao has been fielded. This has caused heartburn among the cadre in both Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, Rao’s home state. It would have been more prudent, these leaders said, to chose a senior leader from the southern state given the party’s strained relations with its ally there, the Telugu Desam Party. D Purandeswari, head of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha, would have been a far better choice, they argued, not least because she is the daughter of NT Rama Rao, the founder of the Telugu Desam Party, and sister-in-law of Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

Businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Another nomination that has particularly upset the rank and file is that of businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar. It is learnt that senior BJP leader from Karnataka N Shankarappa, who was in Raichur on Sunday, was taken to Bengaluru on a chartered flight so he could file his nomination papers on Monday. But on reaching the capital, he was informed that the leadership had dropped the plan to nominate him and instead fielded Chandrasekhar, an independent MP from Kerala. The BJP leaders unhappy with the decision said since the Karnataka Assembly election is barely a few months away, the Rajya Sabha berth should have been given to a state leader. “What kind of a message are we sending out on election-eve by ignoring the rightful claims of our own leaders and accommodating outsiders?” a BJP leader asked. Not only is Chandrasekhar from outside Karnataka, the leader pointed out, he was not even a BJP member. Chandrasekhar joined the party on Monday.