UP cabinet expansion: Yogi Adityanath and the BJP face a stern challenge in next year's election (File)
A crucial expansion of the Uttar Pradesh cabinet is imminent, sources have told NDTV, with six to seven new faces expected to be inducted into Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's team this evening.
The expansion comes months before Assembly polls in the politically key state and, with those elections in mind, is expected to include representation from across castes and communities.
Among the expected new faces are former Congress leader Jitin Prasada - who was once a close associate of Rahul Gandhi and the party's top Brahmin face in UP - swapped parties in June.
Sanjay Nishad of the Nishad Party, which is an ally of the BJP, is also expected to be included; this comes a few months after Mr Nishad, who is from the OBC community, expressed unhappiness over his son and MP, Pravin Nishad, not being included in the mega reshuffle of the union cabinet.
Last week Yogi Adityanath expressed confidence that the BJP would return to power in the state, winning an overwhelming majority in the election. The Chief Minister declared the "perception" about the state had changed and that he expected to win over 350 of the state's 403 seats.
"The perception about UP on the national stage has changed due to the united efforts of the people, the organisation, and the government. People's confidence in governance has increased... this belief will ensure our victory in the 2022 elections with an overwhelming majority of 350 seats," he said.
In 2017 the BJP won 325. The Samajwadi Party and its allies won 54 and the BSP 19 seats.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a Lok Sabha MP from UP's Varanasi, lavished praise on Yogi Adityanath and his government this month, commending it for leading "the biggest development campaigns of the country" and holding it up as an example of the "double-engine" model.
The UP election is widely seen as test of the BJP's appeal at the state level, after relatively poor performances in other states. Earlier this year the BJP retained power in Assam but failed to make headway against Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, won zero seats in Kerala and lost in Tamil Nadu.
Next year's UP election also comes as a test of Yogi Adityanath's credentials from within the party, after several BJP MPs and MLAs expressed concerns over his accessibility and leadership in the light of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerns were also raised about reports that the Brahmin community felt sidelined by the Yogi Adityanath government.,
In that respect, Jitin Prasada is likely to play a key role in the reshuffle. The 47-year-old was the Congress's top Brahmin face in UP and Brahmins make up about 13 per cent of UP's voters.
The community has also been actively courted by opposition parties like Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.