It was not after all as smooth an operation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah to pick the new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister as it was in other states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Goa and Uttarakhand. There were many in the race, some of them the favourites of the two most powerful men in the country.
But on Saturday, as the election of the new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister tossed from one name to another, the final selection proved one of the most surprising — Yogi Adityanath, who enjoys strong RSS backing and may not have been the first choice of the Modi-Shah duo.
Till Friday Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha was the frontrunner for the top post in the most populous and politically crucial state of India.
He bowed out of the race as other names cropped up and the suave M.Tech graduate from the BHU quietly travelled to his parliamentary constituency of Ghazipur.
On Saturday morning, he walked to pray in the Kashi Vishwanath, Kaal Bhairav and Sankat Mochan temples in Varanasi.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was already out for various reasons, a party insider told IANS.
Having served as the last BJP Chief Minister between 2001-2002, Rajnath Singh was dropped for more than one reason – he is not the best known favourite of the Modi-Amit Shah duo, his electoral track record has been abysmal in the past and over all his becoming the Chief Minister would have spiked the chances of his first-term legislator son Pankaj Singh’s potential entry into the state government.
Sources said Sinha was almost finalised after this until party in-charge of the state, Om Mathur batted strongly for Keshav Prasad Maurya, the BJP UP unit chief who is credited with bringing in the MBC votes for the party in the assembly polls in which the BJP and its allies won 325 of the 403 assembly seats.
Maurya, known to be harbouring chief ministerial ambitions, did not take the scheduled flight for Lucknow on Saturday and instead camped at the 66, North Avenue residence of Mathur.
Maurya, the man who was till Thursday feeding ‘Balaji’s prasad laddoos to the BJP’s top brass, however, saw his chances diminishing. His supporters, meanwhile, took to the streets in Lucknow, raising slogans favouring Maurya.
The Shah-Modi duo are learnt to have conveyed their displeasure “at this public display of indiscipline and disregard” after which both Mathur and Maurya left for Lucknow.
Five-time Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath, who had gone into a sulk following reports that his name was not being considered, was, meanwhile, flown to New Delhi in a special chartered plane. He drove straight to Shah’s bungalow where they were closeted for some time.
A decision was taken there, say sources, after consultation with and approval of Modi, who in a few minutes was to fly to Uttarakhand for the swearing in of the new BJP government in the hill state.
Leaders privy to the decision said that in many ways both Shah and Modi were “arm twisted” into decision making.
“UP is different. Here people suffer from subdued arrogance and political empowerment…they are not too keen to follow blind diktats,” said a senior journalist who did not rule out that the sulking Yogi could have put the prime minister and Shah under some “pressure”.
After landing at the Chowdhary Charan Singh international airport Mathur, Keshav, Sunil Bansal and Adityanath left for the VVIP guest house in the heart of the state capital and a stone’s throw from Lok Bahaman, where the BJP lawmakers were to meet at 5 p.m.
They were then closeted in room number 111 for over 30 minutes where the “please all plan” was worked out.
It was decided that Yogi will be named the Chief Minister while Maurya and Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma will be “requisitioned” by Adityanath as helping hands – deputy chief ministers.
The fact that the state would have this arrangement for the first time also speaks of the rumblings in the saffron camp on deciding the name for the top slot.
As per the script, M. Venkaiah Naidu, the central observer and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, initiated the proceedings behind the closed doors of the convention room at the new secretariat.
Seven-time legislator Suresh Khanna proposed the name of Adityanath which was endorsed by the new legislators.
Besan laddoo’s and rose-marigold garlands followed as the name of the new ‘Mahant’ was declared and a fleet of cars left for the Raj Bahaman, a kilometre away to meet Governor Ram Naik and stake claim to government formation.
And this brought an end to the intense, intriguing and baffling race for UP’s top job.