The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll doctors lined up for Hindi heartland

New Delhi, Dec. 10: Arun Jaitley versus Laloo Prasad Yadav and Pramod Mahajan versus Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Riding high on the victory pulled off by Jaitley and Mahajan in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan/Chhattisgarh elections, the BJP is likely to entrust the two most critical states — Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — to the duo in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

Party sources said while Mahajan would be put in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar would be in Jaitley’s care. Central ministers Rajnath Singh, in Uttar Pradesh, and Ravi Shankar Prasad, in Bihar, are expected to give the back-up.

The decision to engage them is based on the assessment that Jaitley will be able to replicate the Madhya Pradesh “strategy” in Bihar by focusing on development and governance instead of allowing caste and community polemics to dominate.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mahajan’s micro-management blueprint of zeroing in on marginal constituencies is expected to pay dividends, as in Rajasthan.

The two states together account for 120 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats.

BJP sources said the first task in Bihar is to consolidate the existing alliance with the Janata Dal (United) and try and win back Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party. A Bihar MP explained that Paswans account for 60,000 to 100,000 votes in each parliamentary seat. Besides, their “militant temperament” always guarantees a huge turnout during the polls. “Paswans are never deterred by booth-capturing and can answer the Yadavs, muscle for muscle,” said the MP.

Some Bihar leaders feel projecting Ram Vilas as the NDA’s candidate for chief ministership in the Assembly elections due in 2005 will be a “small price” to pay for an alliance in the Lok Sabha polls. “He is a huge asset because the Paswan vote, together with the JD(U)’s backward caste and the BJP’s upper caste vote, would be an unbeatable combination,” a source said.

The biggest roadblock is JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s reported reluctance to team up with Paswan again.

The Bihar BJP believes the development versus stagnancy debate may not work as effectively in Bihar as in Madhya Pradesh.

“In Madhya Pradesh, caste is not such a major factor. Here, Laloo Yadav will have an answer to everything. If our leaders say there are no roads, his reply will be: ‘what do people need roads for when they don’t have money to buy cars and two-wheelers'’”

In Uttar Pradesh, the sources said the immediate job would be to try and hold on to the existing 25 Lok Sabha seats and then focus on those where the BJP came second in 1999. Some state leaders believe the party should go into an aggressive mode and counter the “impression” of “playing second fiddle to Mulayam”.

While the feeling is that the existing state party president, Vinay Katiyar, has not “energised the BJP to the extent he should have”, he is unlikely to be removed in a hurry because he is a backward caste leader.

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