The Congress has described the growing rift between two senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run up to the March 3 polls as a brewing caste-war in the saffron party's ranks.

Addressing a press conference in Panaji Monday, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha Shantaram Naik said a small, socially elite section in the BJP was looking to annihilate the bahujan samaj in its cadre, by isolating and suppressing former BJP state president Shripad Naik, who the BJP has consistently projected as its leader of the backward classes.

“The BJP appears to have a systematic plan in place to crush the ‘Bahujan Samaj' from gaining prominence in Goan politics. The talk of the town is that the local BJP leadership will not allow Mr. Naik to raise his head in local politics,” said Naik, who is also an All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretary.

The widening rift between Naik, who was projected as a mass leader by the BJP and former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has a smaller, but cult-like following among Goa's urban elite and the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) sections, has largely derailed the party's pre-election campaign agenda.

In an embarrassment to the BJP, Naik has publicly opted out of the Jan Sampark Yatra, launched by the party to drum up support across the state before the elections. This, after the BJP leadership in New Delhi turned down Naik{gt}s plan to contest the state assembly elections.

Naik is currently a sitting MP in the Lok Sabha from north Goa constituency and has been a union minister of state in the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance government. According to Shantaram Naik, the BJP unit in Goa was hijacked by the “higher—ups in society” and would affect the party{gt}s image dearly during the forthcoming polls. While BJP president Laxmikant Parsenkar has stoutly denied any rift and ‘campism' in the party, a senior BJP leader told IANS that the party's high command was working furiously to settle the issue.