The selection of four new Rajya Sabha nominated members, especially Ram Shakal, was done keeping in mind political realities ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, sources said on Sunday.
The Narendra Modi government chose the four — Shakal, Rakesh Sinha, Sonal Mansingh and Raghunath Mahapatra — after “careful thought” following deliberation on a number of probable candidates, who could make the cut.
While BJP president Amit Shah’s meeting with prominent personalities like actress Madhuri Dikshit and cricketer Kapil Dev set the tongues wagging about a possible nomination for them, sources said the “political usefulness” of candidates and assessment of what message their nomination could send to certain constituencies were gauged before finalising the names.
The nominations also come at a crucial time as the Rajya Sabha will have face a vote on Deputy Chairman as the ruling NDA is short of numbers. While a winning candidate needs 123 votes in a House of 244 members at present, NDA now has 108 assured votes while a combined Opposition has 117. BJD, TRS, YSR Congress and PDP with 19 MPs have not made its stand clear on who they will support.
Former MP Shakal’s nomination was surprising for many even in the BJP but Modi and Shah decided on the Dalit leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh with an intention to send a message to the community, which is at odds with the saffron party during the NDA regime.
The BJP hopes that nomination of a Dalit leader, who also takes up farmer’s causes, could be like two birds in one shot by addressing the two constituencies of Dalits and farmers, who are up in arms against the NDA regime. With this, the saffron party also aims to woo Dalits in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which also comprises Modi’s Lok Sabha seat of Varanasi, to its fold.
The calculation is that it would also send a signal to other communities and castes in the region where Thakurs have a dominant standing. Under Yogi Adityanath-led government, there are accusations that it is a ‘Thakur Raj’ and Shakal’s nomination is aimed at blunting some criticism.
Through Shakal, the BJP also aims to campaign that it is the “real friend” of Dalits and not BSP, which has aligned with its erstwhile rival Samajwadi Party to take on the saffron party. The BJP had won 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats, which was reduced to 68 after three bypolls where a united Opposition created real troubles for the ruling party.
Sources said Modi also did not forget to humour the RSS by nominating Sinha, a Delhi University professor who is vociferously defending the Sangh Parivar and BJP government when it faced tough questions on cow vigilantism, lynching and other controversial issues. “He has been rewarded defending the indefensible,” a senior Opposition leader said.
While some leaders attributed Mahapatra’s selection to Odisha Assembly election next year as well as Lok Sabha polls, Mansingh was chosen for her friends in the BJP. She was appointed Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi during A B Vajpayee government but was ousted during UPA government after a section of artistes led a rebellion against her.