New Delhi: In a rare gesture, months ahead of assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the historic Aishbagh Ramlila in Lucknow in October last year—on the invitation of one man, Dinesh Sharma.
While Sharma has opted for an active yet low-profile public life, on Sunday he came under the spotlight as he took oath as deputy chief minister.
Sharma, 53, has been closely associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Known as a leader who rose from the ranks—he was the Lucknow mayor—Sharma fit the bill of being a non-controversial organizational man.
On Sunday, five-time lawmaker Yogi Adityanath took oath as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, with two deputies—Sharma and BJP’s state president, Keshav Prasad Maurya. Seen as the only dark horse among a number of probables, Sharma’s proximity to the top leaders in the party and his organizational work during the 2014 general elections worked in his favour.
Sharma’s exposure to RSS and politics began early on as his family is believed to have been close to Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay. He was first elected mayor of Lucknow in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, defeating his nearest rival by over 171,000 votes.
“Dinesh Sharma is not a mass leader but has always remained in the good books of most of the top party leaders. The reason for his proximity to BJP leadership is that he is Lucknow mayor, a constituency which was once represented by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is now by Union home minister Rajnath Singh. He is a valuable organizational man,” a senior BJP leader from UP said requesting anonymity.
He was chosen as the party’s national vice-president in August, 2014 owing to his work in Uttatr Pradesh during the general election campaign.
His rise in the party can be gauged from the fact that he was made in-charge of party affairs in Gujarat—the home state of Modi as well as BJP’s national president Amit Shah. He is known to have played a key role in party’s membership drive in the state, which is politically significant for the BJP’s 2019 general election plans.
“The upper caste community- especially the Brahmins have been BJP’s loyal supporters and Dinesh Sharma’s appointment (he is a Brahmin) is an effort to appease this section of voters. With the addition of the non-Yadav OBC (other backward classes) community to its vote bank, BJP cannot risk upsetting the upper castes. It is thus consolidating the support of these two communities with an eye on the 2019 general elections,” said S.K. Dwivedi, a Lucknow-based political analyst.
PTI, Gyan Varma and Meenal Thakur contributed to the story.