The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP legislator does a Priyanka to Mayavati

Lucknow, July 26: Nearly a year after Priyanka Gandhi confronted her for the cause of a Dalit in Amethi, Mayavati faces another challenge to her claim of being a Dalit messiah.

The challenger this time is ally BJP’s Ballia legislator Ram Iqbal. He has declared war on the Uttar Pradesh chief minister for “uprooting” a Dalit, Om Prakash Paswan, from a government-allotted plot in Paharpur village.

Following in Priyanka’s footsteps, Iqbal has announced that he will get Paswan’s house rebuilt through shramdaan even if he fails to force the state to yield. His supporters have bought a piece of land and are collecting money for the house.

But while Priyanka was satisfied with handing over the keys of his reconstructed house to Ram Bhajan, Iqbal wants to carry the fight further.

“My fight is for the self- respect of a Dalit and I will continue it at every level,” he said before leaving for Ballia for the next phase of his agitation. He has threatened to return to Lucknow and stage a dharna outside the Assembly from August 7, when its budget session starts.

Iqbal alleged that rival BSP legislator Ghoora Ram and his brother had demolished Paswan’s house because he switched support from the BSP to the BJP in the Assembly polls. When he demanded that the state rebuild the house and prosecute the 16 supporters of Ghoora Ram named in an FIR, Mayavati took it as a personal affront.

At a rally in Gurgujpur village of Ballia last week, she announced that the land would not be returned to Paswan at any cost and a memorial to Ambedkar Memorial would be built there. She threatened to throw Iqbal and his supporters in jail if they stoked trouble.

When some BSP activists were returning from the meeting, Iqbal’s supporters thrashed them, alleging they were shouting slogans against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.

At the instance of Mayavati, police registered a case under the Dalit Act against the BJP activists and arrest some of Iqbal’s supporters. Furious, Iqbal mobilised thousands of his loyalists, blocked the national highway in front of Ballia police station and dared the government to arrest him.

Word of the goings-on soon reached senior state BJP leaders attending the Raipur conclave. They urged Mayavati not to take any action and called Iqbal to Lucknow to sort things out.

Iqbal made it clear he was far from satisfied. “I will renew the agitation in Ballia despite the chief minister’s jail threat. And if I am still free, I will return to Lucknow on August 7 to start the agitation inside the House,” he said.

Political observers feel Iqbal’s threat could provoke Mayavati into hitting back, as she had done when Priyanka took up the cause of Punnupur’s Ram Bhajan last year.

“But a crack down on Iqbal and his BJP supporters could also backfire at a time when the ruling coalition’s majority in the Assembly stands substantially reduced after the withdrawal of support by the 16-member RJD,” they predict.

The state BJP leaders are aware of this. “A large chunk of state BJP activists is unhappy at the way Mayavati is running them down. Penal action against Iqbal could lead to a major revolt within the state unit,” a senior state BJP official said.

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