The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to initiate a novel experiment from western Uttar Pradesh at the end of this month. It has planned to launch engineering coaching classes for good students of economically weaker families. The objective, however, masks a strategy to consolidate the party’s new-found support among dominant Hindu agrarian communities, other backward castes and Dalits of the Hindi heartland.
The BJP Technocrat Cell will launch a “Gyan Yagya” on August 30 from the party headquarters in Delhi. The cell comprises over 50 alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), mostly retired or semi-retired public-sector engineers “with a desire to contribute to society”.
|BJP’S GYAN YAGYA|
Providing free engineering coaching to economically backward students
BJP’s technocrat cell launches the programme on Aug 30
Retired engineers (all of them IIT alumni) will help students crack IIT-JEE
Coaching centres will start from western UP; focus on Jat, Gujjar, OBC & Dalit youth
These castes are non-traditional BJP voters but voted for Modi; the region has witnessed several communal riots in last 12 months; over 60 Muslims and Hindus were killed in Muzaffarnagar riots
The cell is headed by Subodh Kumar Sharma, an IIT (Roorkee) alumnus. Sharma claims to be a former president of the IIT (Roorkee) Faculty Forum. Many among the cell’s core group, including Sharma, hail from western Uttar Pradesh, which has witnessed several communal clashes over the past year. The worst was in Muzaffarnagar in September 2013.
However, as a chat with Sharma reveals, initiating the project from western Uttar Pradesh is more than just a coincidence. “We will reach out to good students of poor families living in urban slums and guide those from communities like Jats and Gujjars,” Sharma said.
Sharma said students from these communities had little exposure – unlike Brahmins, Banias and Kayasthas – to become engineers or doctors and were, therefore, in need of guidance. “We IITians can help in this,” said Sharma, convenor of the cell that former party president Rajnath Singh launched on January 14.
The riots were a result of tension between the region’s Jats and Muslims. The BJP won nearly all of two dozen western Uttar Pradesh seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, with Jats and other agrarian communities departing from their decades-old voting patterns. These communities deserted Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal to vote for BJP candidates. Some of them, such as Saharanpur MP Raghav Lakhanpal, the MP from Muzaffarnagar and minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, expected to be present at the August 30 event.
Rahul Rajput, a key activist of the cell, is busy spreading the message of Gyan Yagya through social media. He has put up requests on Facebook seeking donations for the effort to help “students from poor families crack the IIT JEE (joint entrance examination)”.
Rajput told Business Standard the team hoped for a good showing of MPs and ministers from western Uttar Pradesh at the event.
“We need their support to reach out to the communities there and win their trust,” he said. The Technocrat Cell intends to seek government support for non-government organisations working in the region. “We need to build a network of NGOs to implement the project and for this we need to discuss the details with MPs and ministers at the August 30 meeting,” Rajput said.
The cell held a preparatory meeting in Lucknow earlier this month. “It is a noble effort and has our support,” said Narendra Singh, a former professor of mechanical engineering at IIT (Roorkee) associated with the cell. The experiment, if successful, is likely to be replicated in the rest of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with OBC and Dalit youth, which the BJP believes voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is also awake to the need to reach out to all Hindus. On Sunday, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed an event in Mumbai to mark the golden jubilee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. “For the next five years, we have to work with the aim of bringing equality among all the Hindus in the country. All Hindus should be drinking water at one place, should be praying at one place and their bodies after their death should be burnt at the same place,” Bhagwat said.
Party strategists know Modi’s backward caste status and the riots in Muzaffarnagar dissolved caste lines to help BJP win 71 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The challenge for BJP now is to arrest any erosion of support among Jats, Yadavs and Dalits. Reaching out to the youth among these communities and contributing in building their future could help the party consolidate itself in the key swing states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The two together account for 120 MPs in the Lok Sabha. BJP won a staggering 104 of these in the 2014 elections.