The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Caste card comes back into full play

New Delhi, May 28: The proponent of “social engineering” in the BJP, K.. Govindacharya, may be out of the party, but his ghost has come to haunt 11 Ashoka Road.

All the changes effected in the government last week and the party organisation after that have followed this principle. Whether it was the induction of Rajnath Singh in the Cabinet or the elevation of Shivraj Singh Chauhan from party secretary to general secretary, it is apparent that the “caste card” has been used to the hilt.

Rajnath’s induction was meant to counter criticism that the BJP was ignoring the Thakurs in Uttar Pradesh to keep the Bahujan Samaj Party and Mayavati happy. Sources admitted that Thakurs had started to drift away after the BJP kept silent over the arrest of Independent MLA Raja Bhaiyya under Prevention of Terrorism Act and the sidelining of Rajnath.

“We cannot be indifferent to a state like Uttar Pradesh which still returns 80 Lok Sabha MPs. The Thakurs may be a small community number-wise, but they have enough influence over voting patterns in many constituencies. We hope Rajnath’s induction will send the right signal,” a source said.

To complete the “social balance”, the BJP played up that it has a Brahmin Prime Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a backward caste Kurmi in Vinay Katiyar, the Uttar Pradesh BJP president. Katiyar, it hoped, would fill the “OBC vacuum” caused by Kalyan Singh’s exit.

The icing on the caste cake was provided by the new minister of state for home, Swami Chinmayanand. Until last Sunday, everyone in the BJP was coy about revealing his caste, saying “sadhus and sants are above such labels”. Now, the buzz is the swami is a Thakur from eastern Uttar Pradesh — another reason for the community to head back to the BJP.

However, a more objective assessment would be that Kalyan alone managed to bridge the chasm between mandir and Mandal or Hindutva and social engineering. Sources said Kalyan was the only leader who sounded credible while speaking on caste and religion.

“Not even Uma Bharti has passed this test, much less Katiyar,” a source said. Bharti, who belongs to the backward Lodh caste from Madhya Pradesh, was marketed more successfully as a rabble-rousing sadhvi (she egged on kar sevaks in 1992 with cries of “ek dhakka aur do, masjid ko tod do”) than an advocate of social justice. This is despite Bharti’s repeated efforts to plead the cause of the Lodhs.

Ditto for Katiyar, who has reportedly not managed to shake off his Bajrang Dal reputation from the Babri demolition days. In Madhya Pradesh, a similar formula was at work with Chauhan being appointed general secretary in Rajnath’s place. Like Rajnath, he is a Thakur. “There is a chance that Digvijay Singh may start a campaign that the BJP is anti-Thakur by pointing to Uttar Pradesh as an example. To scotch that we have brought Chauhan,” the source said.

With Bharti leading the election campaign, the Thakur-OBC equation was in place, he said.

Former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi was brought in as a vice-president in Kailashpati Mishra’s place. The appointment of Manipur’s Bharat Singh as a secretary in place of Jaskaur Meena gave the BJP its first bona fide Northeast representative, a point party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu kept stressing.

Naidu also announced the setting-up of a 15-member national-level campaign committee for the five states going to polls later this year.

Pramod Mahajan will be the convener and members include other general secretaries and Central ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath, Anant Kumar, Jual Oram and Ravi Shankar Prasad. External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who was supposed to have been involved with Chhattisgarh, has opted out.

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