Mirror "mitron" on the wall, who's our face for UP, call?
Thus muses BJP national president, Amit Shah, even as he parks himself in Lucknow and rubbishes archenemy, strategist Prashant Kishor, and holds fort on booth management.
And, while it's a problem of plenty for the BJP, as the claimants — including Yogi Adityanath, Varun Gandhi, Smriti Irani, and Uma Bharti — jostle for the crown, it's also a huge problem for the Modi and Shah duo.
Sadly, to defuse the inner party fight, rumours are being fed that Rajnath Singh will be the campaign committee chief but, not the CM face.
An irate Singh has made his displeasure known. Sources close to him say he spies a conspiracy to further cut him to size, almost get him out of the cabinet and make him the dupe for the UP flop show if the BJP fails at the hustings.
Says a Singh aide: "As party president, Thakur Saab crowned Modi despite Advani's antipathy. He led Modi's baraat to Delhi and now he's being made begani shadi mein Abdullah deewana”.
Hurt at the slights, the wily Thakur has briefed the RSS about his plight.
Shah believes that Akhilesh Yadav will announce a couple of gargantuan projects, finish two out of the three underways and then ask for the Assembly to be dissolved in December 2016 or January 2017, as planned by his father, the grand old pehalwan of UP politics – Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Mayawati, who senses a grand comeback for herself, is also of the view that Yadav will call for elections. And, Congress, which does not have the funds to back Kishor's grand ambitions, seems resigned to its pitiable number four position.
The UP polls will be the most critical and polarised battle ever witnessed, comparable to the second battle that Modi won in Gujarat by invoking "Mian Musharraf" and attacking the then chief election commissioner Lyndoh repeatedly as "James Michael Lyndoh".
The dog whistle this time in UP will be far cruder and crasser then that.
BJP insiders privy to the campaign being planned reveal that beef will be the biggest dish on the electoral menu and quote a slogan "Gai hamari mata hai, M***a isko khata hai".
The Dadri lynch mob will seem tame by comparison, warn senior BjJP leaders as both BJP and SP want consolidation of their respective vote banks.
Sources close to Shah reveal that he is rather unimpressed by the leaders on offer and points out that in the general elections he had personally chosen and given tickets to a host of swami's and sadhvis who are known for hate speech.
Names such as Sadvi Jyoti Niranjan of the "ramzade, haramzade” fame; Sadhvi Prachi, who contested on a BJP ticket and lost and who wants to "drive out all Muslims from India"; Sakshi Maharaj who defected from the SP and who offers a one-way ticket to Pakistan to all anti-nationals.
These were Shah's personal choices, which with the Muzaffarnagar riots ensured the BJP swept.
Unfortunately, despite, minister Sanjeev Baliyan's frantic efforts, the dog whistle is not being heard by the faithful.
Consider some of the leaders in the race to be BJP's UP face and the one striking factor is how far they are from the "sabka saath sabka vikas" and "good governance" that the BJP keeps harping on in the centre.
1. Varun Gandhi:
Sources point out that Maeneka Gandhi's recent public outburst against the hapless environment minister Prakash Javadekar has less to do with the culling of the Nilgai and more to do with frustration for her son denied the crown he fancies.
|Posters demanding Varun Gandhi as UP CM candidate put up by supporters.|
When Varun Gandhi joined the kinder, gentler BJP of Vajpayee and Advani, much was made of the Gandhi brand. Unfortunately, Modi and Shah only have a visceral antipathy to the name. Insiders say Shah and even Arun Jaitley can't stand both mother and son, finding them arrogant and affected.
Varun Gandhi has even been told that he's not to go all over UP holding public meetings but, confine himself to his constituency only.
His future under Modi and Shah is rather bleak, to say the least.
2. Smriti Irani:
Inexplicably perhaps, with reality dawning on her, Irani is showing less and less interest in the battle for UP as it draws nearer. Shah and the RSS are both hesitant about projecting and foisting an outsider who is extremely controversial to boot.
As embarrassment mounts in her false affidavit case, Irani is likely to be used to carpet bomb rallies but not be in the running herself.
3. Uma Bharti:
The original saffron Sadhvi, who today resembles a pale shadow of her once fiery self, sees a ticket to UP as her final chance to resurrect her primacy and career, sidelined as she is.
If both beef and Ram Mandir are on the agenda, then who better than the original "ek dhakka aur doh"? She has told Shah that she would like to go to UP and devote her life to the Ram Mandir.
Shah is believed to have quipped back "that is a project for several lifetimes".
Bharti is also dogged by ill-health and her infamous mood swings. Still, if it's Ram Mandir redux, she's game.
4. Yogi Adityanath:
At 44, he’s is the head priest (mahant) of the Goraknath math and an MP since 1998. He's the real strongman of UP today and even the Modi-Shah duo is uncertain of his moves.
He has been vocal about his ambition to be CM and his Hindu Yuva Vahini is proving to be a strong parallel to the local BJP in UP. Adityanath makes no bones about his plans and has a vice like grip on eastern UP.
BJP insiders say that while Shah has huge trust issues with him, Yogi might leave BJP with no choice but to go with him and his self-described "rightist Hindu platform".
5. Keshav Prasad Maurya
And, what of the insipid and nondescript local unit chief Keshav Prasad Maurya, who has ten criminal cases against him, and flaunts his deep roots in the Sangh as well as his past as a "tea and newspaper seller" like Modi which he never fails to point out?
The tea seller plus caste factor has got him the post but he's not in the race and has been appointed primarily to placate the contenders and ensure that Shah continues to call the shots.
All the contenders are united by extreme views, coarseness, loud oratory and a singular lack of administrative skills, which UP desperately yearns for.
If the BJP makes it in UP, though unlikely, despite a planned biggest ever campaign of its kind and no money spared, the wait for the real chief ministerial face will only get longer.