The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal taps magic in Kalyan kitty
- PM piles pressure on leader to wave the wand

Lucknow, April 29: The order has come from none less than the top boss: he has to weave his magic.

Kalyan Singh is under pressure to deliver in what is being dubbed a do-or-die battle for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

Last time, the party had managed just seven seats in the west-central region that accounts for 30 of the 48 seats yet to go to polls in the state. If the BJP-led coalition has to have another shot at power in Parliament, the party requires at least 12 this time.

At a meeting yesterday in Raj Bhavan with key leaders like Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked Kalyan to use his magic. “Tell party workers to take discipline and tenacity to an extraordinary height. I know you are capable of doing this,” the Prime Minister is believed to have told the former chief minister.

Kalyan accompanied Vajpayee today to Mathura and Aligarh where the Prime Minister addressed rallies.

The BJP’s over dependence on Kalyan is because of his backward caste Lodh background. Last time’s low tally was attributed to his absence. He had parted ways with the BJP and forged a caste alliance with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to cause a loss of 13 seats to the BJP.

This time he has to make up, and the former chief minister is sparing no effort.

Last night, a few minutes before 10, Lucknow’s Shastrinagar Park still echoed with BJP rhetoric as 100-odd party workers hung out on the grassy expanse. Kalyan was on a dais, telling voters about the achievements of “Atal yug”, when a worker went up to remind him about the Election Commission’s campaign deadline.

Kalyan pushed aside the microphone and stepped off the dais. Then, in a more conversational tone, he resumed campaigning, voice almost brittle, and long pauses punctuating every sentence. He had been talking non-stop.

The veteran leader put up a brave face today, saying his party would win at least 17 seats from the region. “The BJP will regain some seats because of a combination of backward and Brahmin votes,” he said.

The BJP is also courting Muslim voters in seats like Meerut and Moradabad by using Urdu poet Bashir Badar for the campaign. Badar had expressed his fondness for Vajpayee recently.

The BJP has decided to focus on at least 10 seats in the region in which the victory margin ranged between 150 votes to 1,200. These include Fatehpur, Bilhaur, Hardoi, Jalesur, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Phulpur and Ghatampur. In Ghatampur, for example, the Bahujan Samaj Party won with a difference of just .02 per cent. BJP strategists say the Kalyan factor would help sway backward caste votes.

But it may not be easy because of the altering caste equations. Party workers in the region fear a loss of upper-caste votes to the Congress and backward votes to the Samajwadi Party and the BSP.

The BSP has tried to forge a caste alliance of Gujjars, Jatavs and Muslims. Party chief Mayavati has fielded a higher number of Muslim candidates this time in an attempt to get a share of the minority vote to supplement her Jatav caste base.

Mulayam Singh has sought to work out a Jat-Yadav-Muslim formula. The Jats account for about 8 per cent of the vote in the region. The chief minister is even trying to wean away some of the BJP’s Thakur votes.

But the BJP’s greater worry is the resurrection of the Congress. Although unlike 1999, the Congress is not in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, it can still make inroads in the Jat belt as well as wrest a share of the Brahmin votes.

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