| BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy addresses the seminar to remember former chief minister Bhola Paswan Shastri at SK Memorial Hall in Patna. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh |
Patna, Sept. 21: Bhola Paswan Shastri’s birth anniversary could not have come at a better time than today for the BJP.
In celebrating the Dalit leader’s birthday, the BJP — which is going to the general elections keeping backward class-born Narendra Modi in the fore — has tried to woo the 15 per cent state Dalit voters.
A first generation Dalit leader and veteran freedom fighter, Shastri is believed to be the most venerated Dalit face of the Congress in the 1960s and 1970s. The party — dominated by the upper caste elites then — anointed Shastri thrice as the state’s chief minister in 1967, 1968 and 1972 for three months, 12 days and seven months, respectively.
The Congress then was locked in a fierce battle against the socialists trying to blood the backward and Dalit classes in the political space under the stewardship of Karpoori Thakur. The country’s grand old party invariably used Shastri as its representative of the deprived section, saddling him as the chief minister during the transitional phase of politics.
A disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, Shastri — who went to jail many times while actively participating in the Non-cooperation Movement in the 1930s and Quit India Movement in 1942 — was known as the bitter critic of the Jan Sangh’s (now BJP) philosophy throughout his life. He was never attracted to the right wing party.
However, today the scenario was different with the BJP celebrating his birthday primarily for two reasons — first attracting the Dalits in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and to widen the clout of the Dalit leadership in the party.
Sanjay Paswan, the party’s president of the scheduled caste cell, organised the event under the aegis of Kabir ke Log at SK Memorial Hall with all the 2,200 chairs occupied. Senior party leaders, including Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the party’s Bihar co-in-charge, Vinod Pandey, and organisational secretary Harendra Pratap, attended it.
The Dalits have so far seldom voted for the BJP in a big way. They constituted barely 10 per cent of the total votes that the BJP polled during the 2010 Assembly elections. But by filling the SK Memorial Hall mostly with the Dalits drawn from various parts of the state, Sanjay in a way succeeded to prove that he could rally the Dalit crowd around him.
The BJP leaders used the anniversary of Shastri, a diehard secularist, to beat the trumpet of Hindutva and belittle the minority community. “Jo Hindu hit ke baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega (The one who talks of the Hindus’ interest will rule the country),” Sanjay chanted, adding, how Narendra Modi was wholly committed to the cause of Hindutva.
For the Congress, JD(U) and the RJD, it was a modest affair. The Congress’s legislature party leader, Sadanand Singh, led the cadre in garlanding a picture of the “loyal son” of the Gandhian tradition.
The second-rung leaders of the JD(U) and the RJD did the same at their respective party offices. The parties had a handful of supporters remembering Shastri for his contribution and gentlemanliness against the BJP’s thousands of cadre extolling Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister.