The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo massages upper castes

Patna, March 2: Laloo Prasad Yadav took his campaign to woo the Bhumihars — so long a BJP vote bank — a notch higher by not only disowning that he had ever waged war against the upper castes but also promising them several sops.

“I have never ever sought to dishonour any upper caste. Forget the past and let Bihar society be together, burying old animosities,” Laloo Prasad told a huge gathering of Bhumihars at Gandhi Maidan today.

The rally was organised on the eve of the birth anniversary of Sahajanand Saraswati, a social reformer from the caste, by Akhilesh Prasad Singh, a Bhumihar minister in the Rabri Devi government.

In a clear attempt to win over the community that had distanced itself from the RJD because of his Dalit roots, Laloo Prasad also promised that his party’s government would work towards honouring eminent Bhumihars.

He announced to loud cheers that a statute of Sahajanand Saraswati would be installed in the city. Moreover, Wheeler Senate Hall, one of the oldest landmarks here, would be renamed Sir Ganesh Dutt Hall after a Bhumihar academician.

He then lashed out at the BJP-led NDA, trying to feed the caste’s disillusionment with the saffron party. “I am happy that you have discarded the NDA train which is burning and come here in large numbers … Your leaders were insulted, their ministries were snatched. One leader was taken back with a grudge following protests while another was dropped,” the RJD chief said.

“Last year-end, I had addressed you at the Sri Krishna Memorial Hall and condemned the way C.P. Thakur was turfed out of his health ministry. Now, since I became close to you, the BJP realised its mistake, and Thakur has been taken back. But what ministry has he been allotted' What is a respected doctor like Thakur supposed to do in a vague ministry like smallscale industry and (North)eastern states affair'” he asked, pointing out that another Bhumihar minister, Nikhil Chowdhary, was dropped to accommodate Thakur.

Stressing that he was not “double-faced”, Laloo Prasad said he would like to put the record straight: his party’s government had been even-handed in the crackdown on the Naxalites and the Ranbir Sena.

Invoking the idealistic legacy of the Bhumihar samaj, he said there was a need for all castes to change the way they saw the poor. “Their sisters, mothers and brothers are yours. You have a responsibility,” he said to the caste, dominated by rich landlords.

But Laloo Prasad’s drive to woo the Bhumihars has not gone down well with everybody. Some ministers did not join the rally, some others were seen at a gathering organised around the same time by Kumhars — the backward potter caste — on the southern fringe of the maidan.

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