Tuesday February 20, 2018
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Ahead of Bihar polls, BJP in caste balancing act

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Patna: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for an end to caste-based politics, in Bihar a deep-rooted tussle in the BJP between upper caste and other backward caste (OBC) leaders ahead of assembly polls later this year has put the saffron party in a dilemma.modi1

Perhaps realizing the problem, Modi and party president, Amit Shah are taking steps to ensure that none of these leaders are allowed to dominate the public debate till the polls, fearing it may anger either of the groups, causing a loss to party’s social support base.

“The BJP in Bihar is a divided house. To project a leader from either the OBCs or the upper castes as a chief minister candidate would antagonize the other group. BJP is not in a position to project any one person against Nitish Kumar, who was declared chief ministerial candidate by Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and National Congress Party (NCP) alliance,” a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named said.

Another BJP leader told IANS, also on condition of anonymity, that the BJP was sure of its traditional base of upper castes remaining intact in Bihar. Its worry was to consolidate backward castes, in view of RJD chief Lalu Prasad joining hands with chief minister Nitish Kumar.

“If BJP projects a backward caste leader as its face for the polls, it is bound to anger upper caste leaders who have been in the forefront of the party in good and bad days,” he said.

In the caste-ridden politics of the state, there are over half a dozen leaders from the upper castes and the backward castes who have staked their claim for being nominated as the chief ministerial candidate. “All of them are lobbying hard,” the BJP leader said.

BJP’s upper caste leaders like C.P. Thakur, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajeev Pratap Rudy and Radha Mohan Singh are the prominent faces in the race for the top post. Similarly, BJP’s backward caste leaders include Sushil Kumar Modi, Prem Kumar and Nand Kishore Yadav.

Thakur, in his early 80s and a Rajya Sabha member, has repeatedly said in the last one month that he will be happy to be a chief ministerial candidate if the party gives this responsibility to him. Thakur belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihars, who are said to be overwhelmingly backing BJP in post Mandal politics in the state.

Union IT and Telecom Minister Prasad, who is also BJP’s face on television channels, is known for his communication skills and legal expertise. He belongs to the upper caste Kayasth community. There is a saying in the local Hindi dialect that if the BJP is sure of any one support, apart from traders, it is the Kayasths. Prasad is said to be in the good books of Modi and the Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the latter for his family background as his father was one of the founders of Jan Sangh in Bihar.

Though Prasad said that he was not in the race for the chief ministerial post unlike Bollywood-actor-turned politician and BJP MP from Patna Shatrughan Sinha, another Kayasth face, leaders in the party say that Sinha was unhappy for not being taken in as part of Modi’s cabinet, is keen to be the chief minister. They say his denial is not credible.

Rudy and Singh are ‘Babusahebs,’ as their powerful Rajput caste is known here. Both are close to union home minister Rajnath Singh and the RSS. Even the name of another vocal Hinduvta champion known for making controversial statements – Griraj Singh, union minister of state for micro, small, and medium enterprise, is also doing the rounds. Singh is a Bhumihar.

Since last year, a powerful group of upper caste leaders in BJP have been opposing projection of former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial candidate.

Modi, who is from a backward caste, is the most influential face and commands respect even among upper castes, say some leaders. But Modi’s disadvantage lies in the fact that two BJP leaders from backward castes are also dead set against him.

Former minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar has also staked his claim to the chief ministership. He belongs to an extreme backward caste. “BJP should project a leader from an extremely backward castes like him to take on the new combination of the JD-U, the RJD, the Congress and NCP, which were together eyeing support of the weaker sections and the OBCs,” he said.

Another backward caste leader in the fray is Leader of Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav. “His UPS is that he belongs to the caste of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and BJP have to project a leader to eat into the traditional support base of Lalu,” BJP insiders say. Yadav opposes Sushil Modi’s projection as chief ministerial candidate.

In Bihar, all election arithmetic relies on caste. Most parties also lean on backward castes, Dalits, and Muslims. Even the Congress, till its influence began to wane from 1989, aimed to secure support of such a combination.

“In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP applied the trick of wooing backwards though it got 78 percent upper caste votes. That was much higher than the OBC votes,” says socio-political analyst Soroor Ahmad.

Ahmad said the BJP has been relying heavily on the upper castes and had emerged as the only major party in Bihar that claims to safeguard their interests.

With RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, both from powerful agrarian backward castes – Yadav and Kurmi – the stage is set for a major caste battle in the state, though through the ballot box.

(With inputs from IANS)

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AAP’S Media Spend Is Four Times That Of Previous Government: RTI Reply

A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP's one year in power in 2016

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Picture of Arvind Kejriwal addressing a rally. Wikimedia Commons
  • The average annual expenditure of the AAP government on advertisements from April 2015 to December 2017 was Rs 70.5 crore
  • The AAP government’s spending on advertisements increased by about 300 percent compared to the Congress government
  • A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP’s one year in power in 2016

The AAP government has spent an average of Rs 70.5 crore annually in the past three years on advertisements — four times more than the previous government’s expenditure on print, electronic and outdoor advertising, according to an RTI reply.

In the first year after assuming office in February 2015, the current government spent Rs 59.9 crore on advertisements, Rs 66.3 crore the next year and Rs 85.3 crore up to December 31, 2017, the Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP) said in reply to an RTI application by IANS.

The average annual expenditure of the AAP government on advertisements from April 2015 to December 2017 was Rs 70.5 crore. The Congress’ average was Rs 17.4 crore in the last five years of its rule (2008-2013).

Also Read: AAP welcomes BJP’s stand on inter-faith marriages

According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers.

For instance, when the AAP government completed its first and second anniversary in 2016 and 2017, leading newspapers in the capital carried full-page advertisements, highlighting the achievements of the government.

The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there. Wikimedia Commons
The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there. Wikimedia Commons

In the run-up to celebrating its three years in office, the government in the first two weeks of February carried advertisements flashing pictures of the Chief Minister or other ministers. The highlights included the inauguration of community toilets, excellence awards distribution for students, a government meeting on “smart gaon”, and invitation of applications for scholarship schemes.

The AAP government’s spending on advertisements increased by about 300 percent compared to the Congress government.

Also Read: Blow for Kejriwal: EC recommends disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs

But the average advertisement rate charged by a leading English newspaper, comparing the Congress government and AAP government periods, has increased by about 17 percent, according to DAVP.

For the same period, the average rate charged by another leading English newspaper has increased by about 35 percent.

A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP’s one year in power in 2016.

According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers. Wikimedia Commons
According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers. Wikimedia Commons

The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements.

Last year, the government came under an opposition attack after Lt. Governor Anil Baijal asked the AAP to cough up Rs 97 crore spent on advertisements, allegedly to promote the party instead of the government. The LG order was based on a report by the Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA).

Also Read: 5 Years of AAP: How Society Has Been Backstabbed by ChandaChor Kejriwal

The regulatory authority asked the Delhi government to assess the expenditure in issuing “those advertisements/advertorials in which the name of the Aam Aadmi Party is mentioned” and other factors.

The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there.

Delhi government spokesperson Nagendar Sharma said he has “no comments” to offer on the increase in expenditure.

The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements. Wikimedia Commons
The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements. Wikimedia Commons

Delhi Congress President Ajay Maken said: “They (AAP) are using the power of advertisements to put pressure on TV (channels) and newspapers. They are doing it ruthlessly”.

BJP MLA and Delhi Assembly Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta termed the government’s spending on advertisements as “irrational”. “Misuse of public money in this way is completely unjustified and unethical,” Gupta told IANS. (IANS)