In a massive jolt to the BJP and Yogi Adityanath just before the Uttar Pradesh election, a minister and three MLAs quit and joined the party’s main challenger, Akhilesh Yadav. Swami Prasad Maurya, a top minister and backward caste leader in the Yogi Adityanath government, posted his resignation letter on Twitter.
Soon after he went public, three more MLAs, Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati and Bhagwati Sagar announced their resignations.
Swami Prasad Maurya, a powerful OBC (Other Backward Class) leader and five-time MLA, joined the BJP in 2016 after quitting Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). He was central to the BJP’s plans to draw a critical section of OBC (Other Backward Caste) voters to counter Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.
The other three leaders have travelled the same route – from the BSP to the BJP to Samajwadi Party – with Mr Maurya.
“Despite a divergent ideology, I worked with dedication in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet. But because of the grave oppression of Dalits, OBCs, farmers, unemployed and small businessmen, I am resigning,” Swami Prasad Maurya wrote in the stinging resignation letter.
He told reporters: “What impact my exit will have on the BJP will be obvious after the 2022 assembly election.”
As his letter emerged on Twitter, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted a photograph with Mr Maurya, welcoming him and his supporters to the Samajwadi Party. “I warmly welcome Swami Prasad Maurya, a leader who fights for social justice and equality, and all his supporters. There will be a revolution in social justice. Chang is coming in 2022,” Mr Yadav tweeted in Hindi.
On cue, Roshan Lal Verma, a three-time MLA, declared that he was leaving the BJP with Mr Maurya.
Keshav Prasad Maurya, Deputy Chief Minister, posted an appeal on Twitter: “I don’t know why Swami Prasad Maurya quit but I appeal to him, don’t quit but let us talk. Decisions taken in haste can backfire.”
Mr Maurya will take more than a dozen leaders with him, said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, who announced a joint campaign with Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh. “Change is coming to UP. Today Maurya has resigned and 13 MLAs are going with him. In the coming days you will see and more people will quit,” he said in Mumbai.
The exits in Lucknow began as Yogi Adityanath and top BJP leaders met in Delhi to discuss Uttar Pradesh election strategy.
Mr Maurya is the BJP MLA from Padrauna in eastern Uttar Pradesh. His daughter Sanghamitra is a BJP MP from UP.
Last year, another influential OBC face and BJP ally, Om Prakash Rajbhar, had crossed over to the Samajwadi Party.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most politically vital state, votes from February 10 in seven rounds in an election widely seen as a semifinal of sorts before the national election of 2024. The results will be declared on March 10.