BJP’s Hanuman burns his bridges

He was once the BJP’s beacon of hope in Uttar Pradesh,but an incensed Kalyan Singh now threatens to be the saffron party’s nemesis in the state....

Written by Suman K Jha | New Delhi | Published: January 22, 2009 12:40:50 am

He was once the BJP’s beacon of hope in Uttar Pradesh,but an incensed Kalyan Singh now threatens to be the saffron party’s nemesis in the state.

In the early 90s,Kalyan at one point ranked next only to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani in the BJP hierarchy. At the time,a relatively young man named Rajnath Singh was a mere state-level party functionary. But somewhere along the way,Kalyan was left lagging behind. After having quit the BJP on Tuesday,with claims that he had been “humiliated”,the three-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh dispatched his resignation letter to the same Rajnath — now presiding over the entire party. That a fellow Uttar Pradesh politician,belonging to the upper-caste Thakur community and a competitor to boot,had raced miles ahead of him in less than a decade-and-a-half,rankled the 76-year-old Lodh Rajput (an OBC community) leader till the very end.

Set to plough a lonely furrow now,Kalyan has,however,ensured that his son and other dependents are given a rehabilitation package by the Samajwadi Party and others. For a leader,who had once promised to infuse the dynamism of Mandal into the mobilisation around the Ayodhya Mandir,the fall could not have been steeper.

In 1991,when Kalyan Singh first led the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh,he was widely known as a no-nonsense chief minister,with a reputation for probity in public life. It was only in his first Cabinet reshuffle that he inducted Rajnath as a minister,who was later assigned the education portfolio.

The BJP’s advent in Uttar Pradesh was largely due to OBC mobilisation,with Kalyan leading from the front,for the Mandir cause. Uttar Pradesh old-timers recall that after L K Advani’s rath yatra for a temple at the birthplace of Ram,Kalyan’s popularity reached its zenith.

“Kalyan came to acquire a halo that was unmatched,something that would probably be rivalled only by Narendra Modi in today’s BJP,” said a veteran BJP leader. “There were folklores woven around Kalyan then. The faithful regarded him as a reincarnation of Hanuman,nothing less. Even in southern states like Karnataka,the routes of his cavalcades were dotted with women with flowers and kumkum in their hands.”

As a Lodh Rajput,Kalyan took great pride in getting the BJP a record yield of 60 seats from the state (out of total 85 Lok Sabha seats then) at the height of the Ayodhya agitation and,of course,his popularity. A predominantly upper-caste leadership — Rajnath had grown in stature in state leadership by then — managed to gain control of the party apparatus by the late ‘90s. Kalyan,on many occasions,vented his frustration against the “upper caste hegemony” in the party,networking in the process with the likes of his ideological polar opposite Mulayam Singh Yadav and other OBC leaders.

After having quit the BJP in 1999 and floating his own party,the Rashtriya Kranti Dal,he came back to the party fold in 2004,but the Kalyan of yore had been left behind somewhere in the previous decade. While he usually kept away from party meetings,he campaigned ceaselessly for his associates and kin. In the past few months,it was Kalyan’s obsession with promoting his son Rajvir and close associate Kusum Rai that had dominated his politics. So his engagement with the BJP and bargaining with the Samajwadi Party were premised on these two names.

On the one hand,he asked the BJP brass to remove Ashok Pradhan from Bulandshahr (because he held Pradhan responsible for his son’s defeat in the earlier Assembly election),but on the other,he was also talking to the SP leadership for “at least five seats” — after being offered Aligarh,Etah and Bulandshahr — so that he could break away from the BJP,and,perhaps,float his own outfit.

For the street-smart politician,who once symbolised the democratisation of BJP’s Hindutva,politics had suddenly become synonymous with personal aggrandisement. Once Kalyan hoped to head the BJP; now,he struggles to remain the notional head of the minuscule group of upwardly mobile Lodh Rajputs in Uttar Pradesh.

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