The Katiyar card

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

The appointment of the hardline Hindutva votary Vinay Katiyar as the president of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh may help the party's revival; at the same time it may also endanger the coalition government's survival.

AFTER having allowed a free hand to Chief Minister Mayawati so far, the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh is set to change course. Vinay Katiyar's appointment as the State BJP unit's president means that the days of quiet submission to the whims of the coalition partner are over. It is confrontation time.

Katiyar, a former Bajrang Dal president and a hardline Hindutva votary, is a rabble-rouser and is hardly expected to give Mayawati a free run of power. Unlike his predecessor Kalraj Mishra, who, despite his opposition to the party's tie-up with Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), never gave vent to his feelings openly except when he announced his resignation as party president, Katiyar is forever vocal, frank and forthright. He was the first BJP leader to voice his displeasure at the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government during the March 15 shiladaan programme of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) at Ayodhya, which the Central government had almost disallowed. He went to the extent of threatening that the NDA government's survival would be at stake if the shiladaan was not allowed.

Katiyar, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and one who was actively associated with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, is also a three-time Member of Parliament from Faizabad. Credited with having organised the demolition operation, Katiyar is not ashamed of his role in it. He does not try to cover up his hardliner image either.

Katiyar's appointment is indication enough that the BJP, which has been relegated to the third slot in the U.P. Assembly, behind the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the BSP, is all set to return to the Hindutva agenda and play again the backward caste card in a desperate attempt to regain lost ground. Perhaps the BJP sees in him another Kalyan Singh, a backward caste leader who can mobilise the vast backward-caste vote bank in favour of the party. And it sees in his hardline stance on the temple issue a force that can rally round it the upper-caste voters. Ever since former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, a member of the Lodh community, was expelled from the party, this slot had remained vacant. Obviously the party has realised that a heady mix of mandal with kamandal had catapulted it to its pre-eminent position in U.P. in the early 1990s. Katiyar belongs to the Kurmi caste.

That the party was all set to fall back on the Hindutva agenda became obvious when the VHP announced at its Hardwar conclave that it would not abide by the court verdict on the temple issue "if it went against the dharma shastras" and that it would start a mass agitation later this year to pave the way for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. No matter how hard the BJP tries to dissociate itself from the VHP's programmes, past instances show that it has adopted them whenever it suited it politically. The BJP will again ride piggyback on the VHP in the next Lok Sabha elections, slated for 2004.

For the coalition government, which for all practical purposes is a Mayawati government, Katiyar's arrival on the scene means trouble. He belongs to that genre in the BJP that is not identified with the gentlemen of the party. He is rash, has a sharp tongue and is not bound by considerations of urbanity - factors which could give nightmares to Mayawati. Unlike Kalraj Mishra and former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, Katiyar is not the type who would shy away from criticising Chief Minister Mayawati openly for the sake of "coalition dharma". He would not, for instance, have kept quiet after Mayawati remarked that the BJP was compelled to join hands with her party because it was scared that another round of elections would reduce its strength by half.

"You will see what I am, just wait and watch," he quipped when asked whether he would prove to be a tough customer for Mayawati. Political observers read a lot in these words. "He says he will act as a mediator between party workers and the highcommand, and between the workers and the government. This clearly means confrontation, because the average BJP worker in U.P. is frustrated and demoralised with the party for having joined hands with the BSP. Workers and supporters of the BJP are also angry over the overtly Dalit agenda that Mayawati is following," said a senior BJP leader. In his opinion, Katiyar's entry means the bell has started tolling for the coalition government. "It is the beginning of the end. Maybe two months at the most. To be more precise, till the vice-presidential election," he said.

The eagerness within the BJP to do something to checkmate Mayawati had become obvious after the Chief Minister's uncharitable remarks about the party while addressing her party's workers on June 16. Although no senior BJP leader in the State would speak on record, there was unanimity among them that it was high time the BJP did something to check her. "This is violative of coalition dharma. Senior leaders should take note of this," was all Rajnath Singh would say, while Lalji Tandon, the most vocal advocate of the alliance in the BJP, could not help retort that it was not the BJP's responsibility alone to keep the government running. "Others too should take the principles of coalition politics into account while speaking," he said, trying not to sound too critical of Mayawati.

The barbs increased in the following days. Mayawati held the BJP responsible for the delay in the Cabinet expansion, while the BJP held that there was no delay on its part. It was only after senior BJP leaders held a secret conclave at a guesthouse near Lucknow that the snide remarks aimed at each other stopped. Both parties predictably blamed the media for creating differences between them and called for truce.

The BJP obviously had a clear strategy. The fact that Katiyar heads the State party unit is compulsion enough for Mayawati to exercise restraint in word and deed. "She will be paid back in the same coin. She should not forget that we are supporting her government," said a Katiyar aide.

One thing that goes in Katiyar's favour is the fact that he is not overtly identified with any group in the party. Infighting in the party has become so intense that State BJP leaders openly blame each other for the party's poor show in the elections. Kalraj Mishra resigned because of infighting, and he made it known too. In his address to party workers he said the party lost the election because the leaders, including himself, were fighting with one another and their personal egos had superceded party loyalties.

A case of BJP leaders trying to outdo one another was provided by Mayawati when she disclosed at a press conference that she had reversed the much-hyped 'quota within quota' policy of Rajnath Singh on a request from his colleague, senior BJP leader Om Prakash Singh, who also requested her not to make his name public. The rivalry between Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra which came into the open during the Assembly elections, is legendary. Stories abound on how they competed with each other to take credit for the kisan yatras and gaon chalo campaigns which the BJP had claimed would woo the vast rural electorate of U.P. The fact that Katiyar is not linked with any of the factions in the State BJP will certainly help unite the party to a great extent. Since both Mishra and Rajnath Singh have welcomed Katiyar's nomination, one can assume that the party would now be able to present a more unified facade on various issues. It was because the party was so hopelessly divided on all issues of importance that Mayawati could have her way. Even on issues such as a sub-quota for the Other Backward Classes and Dalits, Mayawati was able to have her way because the BJP did not present a unified stand. Till date the party has not clarified its line of action on this matter.

With Katiyar at the helm, the party is at least expected to speak in one voice. But it remains to be seen how long leaders like Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh, who lobbied hard for the installation of the BSP-BJP government and whose own interests lie in letting this government run, will allow him to function independently.

Katiyar, however, remains unfazed by the tasks awaiting him. "My first and foremost priority will be to ensure that the morale of BJP workers is improved. I will make them feel that this is as much a BJP government as a BSP one. I will make all BJP workers in the districts feel that they are Ministers," he says. His second priority, he says, is to ensure that the BJP regains its position of pre-eminence in the State. "I have to ensure that the BJP becomes the frontrunning party. How it will be achieved, I cannot disclose now, but wait and see," he said. Regarding the building of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, he remains firm that there is no dispute about it. "The temple is already there. The issue is how to give it grandeur. I will try and ensure that this is done amicably and peacefully," he said. On the question of the government's continuance in power, he said it will no doubt complete its term "provided the BJP was seen and heard as much as it should be."

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