| Vinay Katiyar: A question of caste
July 18: The BJP today dropped Vinay Katiyar as the Uttar Pradesh unit chief, choosing a Brahmin leader in his place in a tacit acknowledgement that the party’s backward card backfired in the heartland in the Lok Sabha polls.
Kesri Nath Tripathi replaced Katiyar, who went out kicking and screaming, a day after the Congress reorganised itself with special thrust on the state.
A backward caste Kurmi, Katiyar said he resigned on the directive of the “high command” but was “unaware” why he was asked to go.
“Even a criminal is given a chance to prove his innocence but I don’t know what my crime is or why I was asked to resign,” he told a TV channel.
“But I am a disciplined party worker and I do not want to delay in obeying the order from the top,” he said at the party office in Lucknow as his secretary typed out the resignation letter.
Katiyar’s politics was rooted in the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation and he was the first chief of the Bajrang Dal. His elevation as the state BJP chief in 2002 was an attempt to revitalise the local unit by combining the caste and temple factors.
BJP sources said the sole criterion for the appointment of Tripathi was not his legal “acumen” but the fact that he is a Brahmin. He had made his mark as a lawyer in hometown Allahabad. As Uttar Pradesh Speaker, he had presided over controversial legislative decisions on party splits.
The sources said that in the last Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls, the feedback was that Brahmins had perceptibly moved away from the BJP to the Congress despite the focus on Atal Bihari Vajpayee .
The depletion of Brahmin votes, they said, did not see a corresponding increase in either backward caste or Dalit votes, despite Katiyar being a Kurmi.
Katiyar also lost the general elections although he shifted from Faizabad —where he had won three times — to Lakhimpur Kheri, considered a safe seat.
Sources in Lucknow said Katiyar was seen as having failed to lead his party to a respectable electoral fight. A BJP committee that recently went into the reasons for the defeat reportedly pointed out that workers in the districts did not get mobilised at all and thus held the state chief responsible.
“If the poor performance in the polls is the reason why I am being removed, all I can say is that I never shouldered the responsibility,” Katiyar said, pointing out he was just one of the members of the campaign committee headed by Kalyan Singh.
The decision to bring in Tripathi — who, too, lost the Lok Sabha polls in Machlishahr, a constituency adjoining Allahabad — was taken by .K. Advani and party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu. It is not known whether Vajpayee was consulted.
The BJP hopes to achieve its social balance by projecting a Brahmin face in Tripathi and an OBC one in Kalyan Singh although there is a realisation that the latter’s belated induction did not work miracles in the general elections.
The Congress had yesterday put up a fairly eclectic team of upper castes, OBC and minorities while reorganising its working committee and the AICC in an attempt to rebuild its base in Uttar Pradesh.
Katiyar’s removal also indicated that the BJP would not like to ride piggy-back on its “temple titans” who had sought to garner Hindu votes on the temple plank. Most of them like Katiyar and Ramvilas Vedanti lost in the recent polls from constituencies that are called Ram Mandir command area.
A revamp, party sources said in Lucknow, however, would not be without a bitter infighting. This is because Brahmin leaders like Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon are waiting to consolidate their positions with Tripathi’s elevation after feeling neglected following Kalyan Singh’s return.
Katiyar had been handpicked by Murli Manohar Joshi during K. Jana Krishnamurthi’s tenure as BJP chief. Advani was reportedly so enraged with the move that he had ensured Krishnamurthi’s ouster.
Tripathi, who has been in Delhi for some days, will reach Lucknow tomorrow. His most talked-about decision was the recognition of a break-up in the BSP in 1998 after the BJP withdrew support to a Mayavati-led coalition government and formed its own with the help of splinter groups.