From her modest beginning as the youngest of four children of a school teacher, BJP leader from the steel city Bhilai, 49-year-old Saroj Pandey, is on the rise. Her rise in the saffron party, during the last two decades as two time Mayor of Durg, MLA, Member of Parliament, BJP Mahila Morcha National President, BJP National general secretary and her latest nomination to the Rajya Sabha, is being envied by many in the political circles of Chhattisgarh.
Despite resistance against her from senior state party leaders and even on her home turf Bhilai where she is locked in an old turf war with a BJP strongman former speaker and present higher education minister Prem Prakash Pandey an aggressive Saroj Pandey all along had her way, except once. During the Modi wave in 2014, she was the lone BJP candidate from Chhattisgarh to lose the Lok Sabha election from Durg constituency a defeat, many believed, was orchestrated by a section of her own party men to contain her growing influence.
But after a brief lull, she bounced back as BJP national general secretary, who was later appointed as in-charge of party affairs in a politically crucial state of Maharashtra where the BJP is in power with Shiv Sena as an ally. Even as there were murmurings within the state BJP that she is nursing higher political ambitions, Saroj Pandey ruffled many feathers with her remarks that the BJP parliamentary board would decide under whose leadership would go ahead in the 2018 assembly polls.
State BJP insiders say she has been known for aggressiveness, mainly towards bureaucrats, during her two-time tenure as Mayor of Durg Municipal Corporation. Her aggressive face came to the fore when she warned the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that if it continued to “show eyes” to BJP in Kerala, they would respond by “entering their homes and gouging out those eyes” a remark that attracted widespread criticism.
After the row, Saroj Pandey was quoted by a national newspaper as saying “I would take on anyone even if it’s our party CM, I would fight to see that party workers get justice.”
Saroj Pandey got her latest success when the BJP nominated her as the party candidate for the lone Rajya Sabha seat from Chhattisgarh overlooking at least two dozen claimants, who were banking on traditional formula of OBC, SC, ST vote bank and even those who were being backed those who are dominating the state politics.
One of the most potent challenges to her was from the state BJP president Dharamlal Kaushik, an OBC leader who apparently had the backing of chief minister Raman Singh, and from the leaders of scheduled caste Satnami community, who constitute about 12 percent of the state’s population.
Satnami community leaders within the party had advanced an argument that BJP had won the 2013 election with the strong backing of Satmani community as BJP had won nine out of 10 seats reserved for the scheduled castes. On the other hand, many state leaders favoured an OBC candidate for Rajya Sabha in the election year as OBCs constitute a majority of the state’s population. But, the BJP high command overruled all such arguments and nominated Saroj Pandey for the Rajya Sabha seat.
After the Rajya Sabha seat issue is settled within the BJP, Chhattisgarh is agog with all sorts of political speculation. A couple of leaders in the state visualize entry into the Narendra Modi ministry, most possibly as a minister of state, during the next reshuffle.
Besides, there is a hush-hush talk in state’s political circles as to what role could Saroj Pandey done in the state politics in the event of BJP retaining power for the fourth consecutive time knowing well that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah doesn’t follow conventional politics when it comes to making decisions.