The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP pins hope on caste, not trishul

New Delhi, April 17: The BJP does not think Praveen Togadia’s arrest in Ajmer would benefit the party in a big way in the Rajasthan elections. The perception follows feedback that the bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had evoked a “lukewarm” response.

Highly-placed sources said caste was the overriding factor in Rajasthan despite the VHP’s efforts to unite Hindus on the issue of the “trishul diksha” rally.

Trishul is not such a big issue as to make people forget about caste. The Uttar Pradesh form of caste politics is entering Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and this has to be borne in mind while formulating our electoral strategies,” they said.

The sources, however, said what made the caste arithmetic “relatively simple” in Rajasthan was their perception that the votes of the two most influential communities — Rajputs and Jats — were with the BJP.

“The Rajput vote has always been with the BJP. In the last Lok Sabha elections, we managed to win 16 seats because the Jats voted for us after we advocated that they be brought in the reservation net. The Brahmins are also with us because most of the Brahmin leaders with the Congress have grown old. The Congress can count on the support of only Dalits and Muslims,” they explained.

The BJP decided to support the VHP’s agitation without launching any on its own despite the report that Togadia’s arrest was no big deal. “BJP workers have been asked to participate in the VHP’s andolan,” sources said.

The factor other than caste equations that the BJP is counting on to see it through in Rajasthan — rated as the “easiest” of the four states heading for elections in November — is its chief ministerial candidate, Vasundhara Raje. “She is an outsider and carries no baggage. She is a woman, young and from a Rajput family. But most important, among all the chief ministerial prospectives, she is pitted against the most low-key Congress opponent (Ashok Gehlot),” the sources said.

The BJP’s internal ranking of Congress chief ministers ruling the four poll-bound states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi placed Gehlot as the “easiest” adversary and Sheila Dikshit (Delhi) as the “most formidable”.

A section in the party even sought a rethink on projecting Madan Lal Khurana as the BJP candidate in Delhi and proposed law minister Arun Jaitley’s name instead. Well-placed sources, however, ruled out the option, saying Jaitley is “not interested” in local politics. “If he was, he could have come in much earlier.”

Khurana — once billed as the BJP’s “best chief minister” — has lost his cutting edge, party sources admitted. “He’s still in neutral gear and has not moved the BJP vehicle unlike our three (other) chief ministerial candidates,” they said.

Khurana was so miffed with press reports, which suggested he may be packed out of Delhi and made a Governor, that he sequestered himself in Hardwar for the last three days.

It is believed that the BJP leadership is not keen to rock the Delhi boat. Sources said the Khurana issue was on the agenda of a meeting between deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and general secretary Pramod Mahajan this evening.

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