Neena Vyas

Leaders feel that he has been selected to revive the party's fortunes in Uttar Pradesh

MUMBAI:The ascendancy of Rajnath Singh has taken place against the backdrop of strong signals from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that the Bharatiya Janata Party must go back to its ideological roots and a view in the parent organisation that the BJP, especially during the years in power from 1998 to 2004, drifted from the course laid out by the RSS 'gurus.'

Primacy of ideology

BJP leaders here have no doubt - and the new president, Mr. Rajnath Singh, himself has signalled - that one of the primary tasks before him will be to restore the primacy of ideology in the party. It is perhaps for that very reason the Janata Dal (United), a key alliance partner in Bihar, has begun distancing itself from the BJP.

Electorally speaking, the BJP leadership has realised that the party will have to strengthen itself in the Hindi heartland if it is to regain the political advantage that earlier catapulted it to power.

Mr. Singh, a former Chief Minister and former party president of Uttar Pradesh, was selected as the party's instrument for that revival in the State.

Over the last several years the BJP has lost a large section of Backward Caste votes to the Samajwadi Party, which has also been trying to add Thakurs to its vote bank with the help of Amar Singh. Mr. Rajnath Singh's job will be to stem the movement of Thakurs away from the BJP. Kalyan Singh's return to the party could also help it get back some Backward Caste votes, although some BJP leaders fear that Mr. Rajnath Singh and Mr. Kalyan Singh may not be able to work as a team.

Uttar Pradesh polls

The BJP leadership is also worried about the Brahmin vote going to the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has been giving ticket to Brahmins.

By selecting an upper caste man from Uttar Pradesh to head the organisation, the BJP will be looking for the return of the Brahmin vote, though Thakurs and Brahmins do not necessarily go together.

The Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2007 will be the next major electoral battle for the party, which at one time won more than 50 of the 85 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

Mr. Rajnath Singh has been an RSS worker since his student days and he became the 'karyawah' (general secretary) of Mirzapur in 1972 when he was barely 21. As he was born in a farmer's family, the BJP believes that this background could help it to project a ''farmer leader.''

Mr. Singh entered politics through the Jan Sangh in 1974 and was imprisoned during the Emergency. He was first elected MLA in 1977, when the Emergency ended.

The party credits him with being an able administrator, proving himself in the jobs of Chief Minister in 2000 and Surface Transport Minister in the Vajpayee Government.

As Chief Minister he tried to bring the most Backward Castes to the BJP by legislating for a separate reservation for this group within the larger Backward Caste quota.

But that measure was struck down by court and the result was the BJP could not win the subsequent Assembly election. He came back to the Centre as Agriculture Minister in the Vajpayee Government.

As party general secretary after the BJP lost the 2004 Lok Sabha election, he was put in charge of Chhattisgarh and then Jharkhand.

He helped the party win both States.