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Mahajan at table, merger on menu

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Desperate to get its act together in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP knocked on Kalyan Singh’s door in Lucknow to see if he would return to his parent party and give it the leg-up it badly needs in the crucial state.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan, accompanied by two old friends of Kalyan, Rajya Sabha MPs Dinanath Mishra and Balbir Punj, reached Lucknow today for an hour-long lunch meeting with the former chief minister.

“The talk was political. There was complete agreement between us on the prevailing situation in the country and Uttar Pradesh. He expressed a desire to come back,” said BJP sources, but refused to set a time frame. It is likely that the pact will be cemented by the end of the month. The trio was despatched by the “high command”.

Sources said that if Kalyan returns, he will merge his Rashtriya Kranti Party with the BJP and not be a constituent of the NDA.

“We re-initiated the process today. He took one step last month, we took another step today,” a source said, referring to Kalyan’s appearance at a function in Lucknow on December 24, the eve of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday last year.

Sources said there were no conditions from either side. “Our idea is he should be given the same status he had in the hierarchy when he left the BJP. We should not diminish his status in any way. Because if we do it, he will just be another decorative piece and have little utility for the party,” they said.

Asked what the “same status” meant, sources explained that Kalyan would not be given a formal position in the party right away. But he would be projected as a star campaigner and perhaps given a free hand in revamping the organisation and ticket distribution.

That Vajpayee agreed to share a public platform with his bete noire — who the BJP held responsible for its poor showing in Uttar Pradesh in the last Lok Sabha polls — was seen as a clear sign of the Prime Minister’s willingness to let bygones be bygones and seek a rapprochement with Kalyan.

The Uttar Pradesh leader had been expected to rejoin the BJP before its Hyderabad national executive. But the exercise was stymied because Kalyan reportedly insisted he should be given a free hand in the state during the elections and thereafter.

State leaders, including Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra and Vinay Katiyar, argued that his re-entry should be “unconditional”.

Privately, the leaders also said Kalyan’s comeback would not result in the kind of vote and seat accretion the Delhi bosses were looking at.

“If he can add two or three per cent vote, he can also minus another seven or eight per cent,” a senior state leader remarked acerbically.

The Uttar Pradesh line-up also took a grim view of Kalyan’s birthday celebration in Lucknow on January 5 which saw his close friend Kusum Rai and his son Rajveer dance to bawdy Hindi film numbers.

In a meeting the BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu had with Rajnath, Mishra and Katiyar yesterday, he reportedly impressed on them the importance of bringing back Kalyan and urged them to shed their reservations against him.

Ranged against the views from Lucknow was the high command’s perception that the party’s state unit lacked a charismatic leader who could carry along all social sections, or at least a big chunk of them, and who had a “positive” image.

Kalyan, who belongs to the Other Backward Classes, symbolises the two most important strands of present-day heartland politics: Mandir and Mandal. He was chief minister when the Babri mosque was demolished and earned the honorific of “Hindu hriday ka samrat” (Monarch of the Hindu heart).

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