Newly elected BJP MLAs in UP and Uttarakhand will meet on March 18 and are likely to elect their legislature party leader, a week after the party's emphatic victories in the two states. "Party's central observers - Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav - will be present at the meeting on Saturday at 5 PM," BJP's general secretary in UP, where the party won a three-fourth majority, Vijay Bahadur Pathak told PTI in Lucknow. Asked specifically as to whether there was any likelihood of an election for the post of the leader of the Legislature Party, Pathak avoided a direct reply, saying, "I can't say." The names of probables for the top post doing the rounds in political circles include Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Manoj Sinha and state BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya. Singh, a former UP chief minister, is probably the tallest BJP leader in the state, while Sinha, an upper caste Bhumihar, too has considerable administrative experience.
However, their choice could antagonise lower caste voters. Maurya, who had helped consolidate non-Yadav OBC votes in the party's favour, is said to be in the good books of BJP chief Amit Shah. Another probable is Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, who has strong links with RSS. The Uttarakhand BJP legislature party will also hold a meeting at a hotel in Dehradun tomorrow in the presence of the party's central observers to discuss who should be the new chief minister of the state. The BJP scored a massive victory in the recently held Assembly elections winning 57 of the 70 seats. The legislature party meeting will be held at 3 PM in the presence of the central observers and party incharge of Uttarakhand affairs Shyam Jaju, Pradesh BJP president Ajay Bhatt said. "All the newly elected party MLAs have been asked to be in Dehradun tomorrow for the meeting and the day after when the new chief minister is to be sworn in," Bhatt said. Speculations are still going on about appointment of the new chief minister in the state with the presence of over six heavyweight contenders for the top office but the race seems to be narrowing down between Pithoragarh MLA Prakash Pant and Doiwala MLA Trivendra Singh Rawat emerging as front runners for the post even as party sources here said the final choice will emerge only with stamp of approval from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. "The factor working in favour of Pant is his long association with the organisation as well as his ministerial and legislative experience," a senior party leader requesting anonymity said. Pant was the first Speaker of Uttarakhand Assembly in the interim government after the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 and also became a minister subsequently holding plum portfolios like tourism and culture and parliamentary affairs. Trivendra Singh Rawat, who has been elected from Doiwala, also continues to be in the race for the top office due to his strong RSS roots and long experience in ministerial positions. Trivendra who is incharge of party affairs in Jharkhand and is also credited for guiding the party to victory there is also known for his proximity with the party's central leaders, a fact which seems to strengthen his chances.
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