BJP holds caste conferences for electoral dividends

BJP holds caste conferences for electoral dividends

Naresh Agarwal (left), compared SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh as the alliance between a snake and a mole at the BJP's caste conference on Saturday. PTI FILE PHOTO

Rejecting the alliance of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, former SP leader Naresh Agarwal on Saturday compared them to "snake and mole," and reminded the trading community that “The BJP is the only party for Baniyas (traders).”

Agarwal made those remarks at the general conference of Uttar Pradesh Vaishya Samaj, organised by him and attended by senior BJP leaders and Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and Harsh Vardhan and Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey.

In the caste cauldron of the Hindi belt, no permutation-combination is permanent, and the ruling BJP perhaps, knows it well. Hence, as the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, in which 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh could decide who will rule Delhi, it is not taking even its decades-old loyal, core vote bank for granted. The party has, instead, reached out to them afresh.

As Vaishyas are peeved with the party over moves like GST and demonetisaion, BJP leaders on Saturday also reminded them of their long-time connect and assured that “temporary problems” would be over soon.

Though Vaishyas are only 4% of the total voters, they influence other votes owing to their regular community connect due to business, a fact also underlined by BJP speakers at Saturday's event.

Caste was at full play at the event. Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, who told the audience about how he had removed the title from his name when he was in standard 11, because he was opposed to castiesm, nevertheless stressed, “I am also a descendant of Maharaja Agrasen. Not many people know my caste, but I am proud of my lineage to Maharaja Agrasen and Bhama Shah”.

Vaishyas claim their descent from Agrasen, a legendary king of Agroha, a city of traders in ancient India. Bhama Shah, who was a close aide of Rajput king Maharana Pratap, is the most prominent icon of the trader community.

Harsh Varshan spoke at length on the contribution of Vaishyas in the victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and Assembly polls in 2017, and said that the community has made huge contributions in making both, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, prime ministers.

Telling them that the face of the nation would have changed had Vajpayee become the prime minister for a second term, Harsh Vardhan urged the community to vote for the BJP, whilst expressing confidence that this conference will prove a milestone for the 2019 elections.

Meanwhile, exhorting the traders to put up BJP flags and photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah at their shops, Agarwal said that when he is asked by people, why did he leave SP and join the BJP, he replies "which is the party for traders other than this?" (Baniyon Ki party to wahi hai aur kaun?)

He also went on to say that the Brhamin and the Baniya are two sides of the same coin, and recalled how the BJP was once called a Brahmin-Baniya party. “Do not make a mistake, do not fall in trap of anyone,” Agarwal cautioned.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal, however, was cautious. He said that the BJP is a party of all sections.

This is not the first such caste conference. With caste leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati coming together, the BJP has been relying more and more on similar caste conferences to reach out to different target voter communities. The Uttar Pradesh BJP has held a number of caste meetings of Most Backward Classes in the last few months to counter the effect of consolidation of the Yadav and the Jatav vote banks of the SP and the BSP, respectively.

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