The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lazy lessons from comfortable loser

Rae Bareli, May 6: Propped up against a mound of pillows in his hotel room, a contented Vinay Katiyar says fighting the Rae Bareli bypoll against Sonia Gandhi has been a “great learning experience”.

Lesson One, of course, is that with the Congress president sure to be a comfortable winner, the best option for him is to be a comfortable loser.

Therefore, the BJP candidate has conducted his campaign without sweat, even in the heat and dust of May. The time has been well spent reclining in his air-conditioned room at the tacky Ganesh hotel, with a bit of “jan sampark” (people contact) thrown in between noon and sundown.

The mornings have been lazy, kicking off with a rather spartan breakfast of tea and powdered sattu (“the best way to beat the heat”, he says). Then, reclined on his bed, a little chit-chat with party workers.

The booked-up hotel with the securitymen around might look like a political beehive to the unwary, but it’s nothing of that sort.

Like Rahul Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Katiyar gets special security cover. The workers are mostly his kinsmen Kurmis. There’s also Premlata Katiyar, an MLA from Vinay’s hometown, Kanpur, Rajlaxmi Verma and Rajya Sabha MP Ram Baksh Singh Verma.

The last looks grim when asked what he thought of the elections. “The BJP is nowhere in the picture. We have to see if we come third or fourth,” he says before setting out on a jan sampark mission.

Katiyar, the reluctant fighter dragged to the battlefield by party bosses, doesn’t mind at all. No regrets, no recriminations.

After all, it’s a fight between a “desi devar” (indigenous brother-in-law) and his “videshi bhabhi” (foreign sister-in-law), he quips, making perhaps his most memorable contribution to the election.

But the feisty champion of the Ram temple feels a bit let down by the lack of enthusiasm from his brothers and sisters in the state unit and Delhi.

“I didn’t want to fight, I had just been elected to the Rajya Sabha and Faizabad is my area of work,” he says.

Of the three leaders who pressured him to “take up the challenge”, two ' L.K. Advani and Kalyan Singh ' didn’t show up. The third, Pramod Mahajan, died.

“Mahajan was the only one to show some involvement. He was on my side when I filed my nomination and he addressed the public. It was his last public meeting. Had he been alive, he would have come and helped me put up a fight,” Katiyar declares.

Advani was preoccupied with his rath yatra while Kalyan had bypass surgery. BJP president Rajnath Singh, Katiyar said, was “gracious” enough to address four meetings in the midst of his own yatra, but state BJP chief Kesri Nath Tripathi gave Rae Bareli a wide berth.

The BJP’s “mascot” against Sonia, Sushma Swaraj, had been allotted two days for the constituency but kept away after Mahajan’s death.

All this has given the candidate enough time and solitude to reflect on his “learning process”.

Lesson Two, Rae Bareli is a monarchy.

“From Indira Gandhi’s time, they (the Nehru-Gandhis) perfected a system of sub-contracting government works to local thekedars (contractors). These contractors made a lot of money, became powerful and controlled the votes in their areas,” Katiyar explains.

“Naturally, they delivered these votes to the Congress. The family was in trouble occasionally if one of these contractors got upset with them. There is no democracy in this rajtantra (monarchy).”

To prove his point, he alleges money had to be paid to put up party flags and posters. The only BJP flags and posters visible were on Katiyar’s hotel walls, though ' an indication of lack of cadre support or Sonia’s “undemocratic” ways'

The contented candidate smiles. “We have bought peace (with the Congress) and they have allowed us to put up a few things here and there.”

As he leans back against the pillows, it’s clear that the devar has thrown in the towel.

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