BJP dumps temple torch-bearer

Vinay Katiyar

Lucknow: The BJP has denied a Rajya Sabha ticket to Vinay Katiyar, dumping a five-time MP who played a key role in the Ram temple movement and helped the party grow from two Lok Sabha seats to 85 between 1984 and 1989.

Party insiders suggested the 63-year-old Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagran Manch leader was paying for his constant pressure on the Narendra Modi government to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya and his public support for veteran L.K. Advani.

"Modi has been silent on the temple while Katiyar keeps reminding him about it every day," the source said.

Katiyar, an Upper House member since 2006 and thrice Lok Sabha MP from Faizabad before that, is being dropped after 27 years of being nominated for Parliament. His second and current Rajya Sabha term ends on April 2.

Katiyar has betrayed a knack for annoying the Modi government. He accused the CBI of "plotting" against BJP stalwarts last April after the Supreme Court revived "criminal conspiracy charges" against him, Advani and others.

Allahabad High Court had dropped the charges but the CBI had appealed before the apex court to restore them. Katiyar had also publicly backed Lalu Prasad's allegation that the agency had appealed against Advani in the apex court only to prevent the veteran running for President.

Katiyar - "Bajrangi" (Hanuman) to many in Ayodhya - had joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the late 1970s and founded the Manch and the Dal in 1982 and 1984, respectively.

While the Manch's objective was "Hindu awakening", the more muscular and cadre-based Dal was trained to "protect Ram bhakts". Both are still seen as key wings of the Sangh.

BJP sources said that Katiyar owed his rise in the party to the patronage of former Sangh ideologue K.N. Govindacharya, who was later forced out of the BJP in 2000 and has left the parent organisation too.

"In those troubled days of the 1980s, the BJP was looking to shed its label of a party of Baniyas and Brahmins. We were scouring for an issue to launch our election campaign," a BJP source said.

"Govindacharya realised that the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was a promising one and assigned Katiyar, who was from the Other Backward Classes, to take it up."

The source added that former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh (now Rajasthan governor) - another OBC politician - too had been brought to the forefront at the time to fight the perception that the BJP didn't care about the community.

All the eight BJP Rajya Sabha nominees from the heartland state this time are junior to Katiyar. They are finance minister Arun Jaitley, Vijay Pal Singh Tomar, Sakal Deep Rajbhar, Kanta Kardam, Anil Jain, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, Harnath Singh Yadav and Ashok Bajpai.

While Jaitley and Rao have high national profiles and Bajpai has joined from the Samajwadi Party, the other five are not very well known even in the state.

Besides promising its excess votes to Independent nominee Anil Agrawal, the BJP has put up two dummy candidates against the 10 vacancies from Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said state BJP officials Vidyasagar Sonkar and Salil Bishnoi had been fielded unofficially to "sow confusion" but did not elaborate.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have fielded one candidate each. Mayawati will be expecting the Samajwadis' excess votes - in return for support in Sunday's parliamentary by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur - and backing from the Congress and the small parties.


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