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BJP chance to break into backward fold

New Delhi, March 11: Ram Kripal Yadav is all set to embrace the BJP after over two decades as Lalu Prasad’s lieutenant safeguarding social justice and secularism.

Expected to formally sign up tomorrow, Ram Kripal will become the latest among a host of backward-class and Dalit leaders to join the upper caste-dominated party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

He is likely to be pitted against Lalu Prasad’s daughter, Misa Bharti, from Pataliputra. If he manages to defeat Misa from the Yadav-dominated constituency, it would send a big message not only to his former party boss but to the socialist brand of politicians whose politics hinges on backward-class support.

The BJP has managed to wean away a few leaders from Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal, the tallest OBC leaders. They include Upendra Kushwaha, Om Prakash Yadav, Nawal Kishore Yadav and a lady from Nitish’s cabinet, Renu Kushwaha.

These leaders do not enjoy pan-Bihar influence but serve as powerful symbols for the BJP to dent the vote banks of Lalu Prasad and Nitish. Along with these OBC leaders, the BJP has also managed to bag Dalit leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Udit Raj, as it strives to complete the social engineering process.

For decades now, the BJP has projected backward-class faces like Sushil Kumar Modi in Bihar, Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Uma Bharti and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Narendra Modi in Gujarat.

But despite such faces, the BJP has never been able to shed the image of being controlled by what is popularly known as “Brahminical” leaders and the RSS at the top.

In Bihar, the BJP pitch-forked Nitish to showcase its pro-backward face but was still known to be protecting the interests of upper castes in the government. Now, after the divorce with Nitish, the party appears to be in overdrive to wean away backward leaders.

For the BJP, the welcoming of these leaders could be driven by the compulsion to widen its support base, and most importantly, to enlarge the acceptability of the “divisive” Narendra Modi. The party appears to have realised that it cannot inch nearer the 272 mark in the Lok Sabha without the support of the backward and Dalit sections.

The push, in the run-up to the elections, is being pursued under Modi’s stewardship, sweeping aside the discomfort of upper caste leaders in the party, sources said.

Four Brahmin and Bhumihar caste leaders — C.P. Thakur, Giriraj Singh, Ashwini Coudeby and Amredra Pratap Singh — registered their protest by skipping Modi’s rally in Muzaffarpur recently.

The induction of Ram Kripal is certain to stir more unrest in the BJP. The discomfort exhibited by senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and L.K. Advani, apart from leadership issues, is being seen as a result of the BJP’s overdrive to embrace backward and Dalit leaders.

“In this overdrive to win over backward and Dalit leaders and reward them with seats of their choice, there is a real danger of annoying our natural supporters, the upper castes,” said a senior BJP leader.

Sources said the RSS has begun to get wary about the unusual backward-Dalit tilt in the party, fearing it could upset the upper castes. The reported statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that “it was not the RSS’s job to chant Namo Namo” is being seen as a damage-control measure.