The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP to roll out caste cannon

New Delhi, April 23: The Samajwadi Party is going for the kill, there is a spring in the Congress’ step, the BJP is grappling with “anti-incumbency” and the BSP, true to its grain, is working silently as Uttar Pradesh, the state most crucial to the Delhi race, gets ready for its first round of voting on Monday.

At stake are 32 of the 80 seats, all located in the east that is the state’s political nerve centre.

The BJP today said it would carpet-bomb the region with high-profile caste leaders. Kalyan Singh, Narendra Modi, Sanjay Paswan, Jai Narain Nishad, Karia Munda and Kashiram Rana will be among the campaigners. All of them belong to the backward classes.

Spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the idea is to spread the message among the backward classes that the NDA government has started various schemes to initiate them into the mainstream.

The BJP’s strategy to focus on “marginalised” sections stems from the perception that getting the caste equation right is what matters, not flogging Hindutva. In Faizabad, of which Ayodhya is a part, BJP nominee Lalloo Singh has been projected as “vikas purush” and not as champion of the temple.

In Varanasi, a Brahmin bastion, three-time MP Shankar Prasad Jaiswal is struggling to keep Brahmin votes — a captive bank since the Ayodhya days — from shifting to Rajesh Mishra, a former student leader fielded by the Congress. Jaiswal, once seen as a Hindutva votary, is now reduced to a “Bania candidate”.

With the flight of the Brahmin vote to the Congress, Varanasi’s Muslims too see the party as a better bet than the Samajwadi, the usual favourite.

Other factors bothering the BJP are:

• An apparent consolidation of the backward caste vote in the Samajwadi’s favour

• Dalit allegiance to the BSP

• Division among Rajputs, who are either with the BJP or the Samajwadi

• The party is no longer ruling Uttar Pradesh and is, therefore, not in control of the administration unlike as in 1998 and 1999

• The BJP has been nudged out of the fight in 11 constituencies

• The “feel good” sentiment is not working on the ground. The Lucknow sari stampede might put off women voters

The Samajwadi is aiming for 40-plus seats and hopes to make maximum gains in the east, a socialist stronghold. “The first phase would be the most critical. Only if we do well on April 26 can we sustain the morale of our cadre,” said party activist in Jaunpur Rukhsan Ahmed.

S.R.S. Yadav, the party secretary, said workers were told that more the seats, the greater the chances of “netaji” (Mulayam Singh Yadav) making it to the top job in Delhi. Speculation that the party was ready to do business with the NDA had put off its Muslim voters. But a series of denials has helped the party recover ground.

The Congress is in the fight in 14 seats and Rahul Gandhi’s campaign, the party hopes, will give it the badly-needed push to close the gap.

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