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Katiyar shoved into Sonia battle

New Delhi, April 18: Around the last time there was an election in Rae Bareli, Sushma Swaraj had escaped tonsure by a hair’s breadth.

As the constituency heads for the booths again, the Sonia Gandhi effect is back to torment the BJP. This time it’s Vinay Katiyar who is tearing his hair out in frustration as he is dragged to the arena, kicking and screaming, by his party.

The BJP general secretary, who believes contesting against Sonia would amount to harakiri, was named party candidate from Rae Bareli this evening despite his protests and a last-minute dash to Varanasi to try and stop the formal announcement.

“I tell you I won’t do it (contest from Rae Bareli),” Katiyar screamed at this reporter over the phone. “I am rushing to Varanasi. I’ll approach Atalji. This is gross injustice.”

Katiyar has been privately mouthing what a local party worker described as “unspeakable things” against the senior leaders who have forced him to fall in line.

For all his threats to knock at Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s door ' the final court of appeal in the BJP ' the party was in no mood to give into his tantrums. Katiyar had earlier bullied state BJP leaders Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra into abandoning the effort to field him.

Katiyar reportedly told Mishra that the veteran leader should himself volunteer to take on the Congress president and “become famous” in his old age.

Finally, L.K. Advani’s services were summoned. Advani reportedly gave Katiyar a dressing down today, telling him he had no choice.

Many BJP leaders had earlier suggested the party shouldn’t field anyone against Sonia ' and later claim she had won an election nobody wanted to contest. Advani was said to be livid at the idea, saying there was no way the party could “escape the battlefield”.

The real battle, however, is not against Sonia, whose victory is certain. The party’s prime concern is to prevent Prabha Singh Lodh, the Apna Dal candidate supported by Uma Bharti, from bagging more votes than the BJP contender.

“We simply can’t let that happen. Uma would go around advertising that her claim of being the real BJP has been proved true,” a source said.

The Apna Dal is a fringe party supported by the backward Lodhs ' Uma’s own caste ' and Kurmi farmers. As Katiyar is a Kurmi, he is the BJP’s only hope of putting up a fight.

The party broke through Katiyar’s resistance late this evening. At 7.30 pm in Varanasi, BJP chief Rajnath Singh announced his name. Katiyar will file his nomination on Thursday.

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