Uttar Pradesh minister Swami Prasad Maurya has said that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s choice for the next chief minister of the state will be decided after Assembly elections are held next year, The Indian Express reported on Monday.

“The chief minister will be finalised by the central leadership after the Assembly elections,” Maurya told reporters on Sunday.

Swami Prasad Maurya’s comment echoes the view of his Cabinet colleague and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya who had also said last week that the decision will be taken by the party’s central leadership.

However, days after Keshav Prasad Maurya’s comment, BJP state unit chief Swatantra Dev Singh said that the BJP will fight the elections under the leadership of sitting Chief Minister Adityanath.

The difference of opinion among top leaders lead to further speculation on the BJP’s state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier this month, BJP Vice President Radha Mohan Singh and National General Secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh conducted review meetings where they spoke to several state leaders, including Cabinet ministers. The meetings were held after the Adityanath government faced criticism for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and a poor showing by the party in the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. BJP ministers and MLAs have also voiced grievances against their own government.

Reports suggested that the ministers gave feedback about resentment within the party about Adityanath “favouring” his Thakur community in appointments. However, after the meetings, Singh and Santhosh dismissed speculations of a leadership change in the state right now.

Despite the vote of confidence from the two top leaders, there have also been talks of a Cabinet reshuffle in the state ahead of elections next year. Former Indian Administrative Service officer AK Sharma, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was appointed vice president of the state unit of BJP last week and there are rumours that he will be inducted into Adityanath’s Cabinet.

On Monday, Sharma also weighed in on the matter of leadership in Uttar Pradesh. In a letter to Swatantra Dev Singh, he expressed confidence that the BJP would return to power with even more seats under Adityanath, The Indian Express reported. But, he also added that the “name and patronage of Modi” was enough for the party to win the state polls.

Responding to questions on the varying stance taken by the leaders, BJP spokesperson Harishchandra Srivastava sought to strike a balance.

“Swatantra Dev is the state unit president and what he has said is important,” he said on Monday. “What Keshav Prasad Maurya and Swami Prasad Maurya have said is on the basis of the party’s norms and traditions.”

In the past few state elections, the BJP has refrained from announcing its chief ministerial candidate ahead of polls. It did not project any particular leader in the lead up to the recently held polls in the five states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. The party followed the same template in the Delhi elections held in February 2020. Even Adityanath was chosen as the chief minister only after the party won a clear majority in the last state elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.