Strategic moves

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

A VHP activist at an election campaign rally in Allahabad on April 17.-JITENDRA PRAKASH /REUTERS

A VHP activist at an election campaign rally in Allahabad on April 17.-JITENDRA PRAKASH /REUTERS

UTTAR PRADESH Minority factor By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Lucknow

IN the early run-up to the elections for the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the general assumption was that the contest in the State would be bipolar, that is, between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The elections were viewed as a test of the two principal contenders ability to keep or lose their core constituencies. And the two important factors considered in this analysis were the amount of support the BSP had lost on account of the anti-incumbency factor and the extent to which the S.P. would be able to capitalise on it. However, as the five-phase election process made its tortuous course across the most populous State in the country, the idea of bipolarity got diluted, although it remains a central factor. Put simply, the elections are becoming multidimensional, with different factors getting prominence in different parts of the State. In effect, a number of constituencies have assumed absolutely unique characteristics.

Cases in point are Pilibhit, which goes to the polls in the last phase of the elections, on May 13; Basti, which has voting in the second phase, on April 23; and Azamgarh, where polling was completed in the first phase, on April 16. The main issue in Pilibhit is not the governance of the Mayawati regime or that of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre or the efficacy of the S.P. or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as opposition parties. The debate in the constituency revolves around the communal speech made by the BJP candidate, Varun Gandhi, and the reactions it has evoked from the State government as well as from the different parties in the contest. The debate, clearly, has assumed communal overtones of the Hindutva variety.

Azamgarh, too, represents a sort of communal feeling, albeit with a difference. Here, the widespread hurt and anger that the Batla House encounter in Delhis Jamia Nagar on October 18, 2008, had caused among large segments of the Muslim population has evolved into an important political factor. Termed the Batla House effect locally, this anger has resulted in mass mobilisation of the Muslim community under the banner of a variety of new organisations such as the Ulema Council (U.C.) and the Peace Party of India (PPI). Both the U.C. and the PPI advocate a particular brand of secular politics that opposes not only the BJPs Hindutva but also secular mainstream parties such as the BSP, the S.P. and the Congress.

Tahir Mahdani, leader of the U.C., says: The Muslim minorities have been repeatedly let down by the leadership of all the secular parties. For 44 years since Independence, the upper-caste leadership of the Congress took the minority community for a ride, while those like the S.P. and the BSP, with non-upper-caste leaderships, also did the same after 1991. This serial betrayal has made sincere secularists within the community and outside to come together and look for new alternatives.

The U.C. has put up candidates in seven constituencies Azamgarh, Lalganj, Jaunpur, Machli Shahahar, Ambedkar Nagar, Kanpur and Lucknow. Most of those killed and captured in the Batla House encounter hailed from Azamgarh. The PPI has fielded candidates in five seats Khalilabad, Deoria, Varanasi, Basti and Gonda.

The popular response to the U.C.s Azamgarh candidate, Dr. Javed Akthar, and the PPIs Khalilabad candidate, Rajesh Singh, have been so striking that the supporters of the BSP and the S.P. have started complaining that the U.C. and the PPI are only indirectly helping the BJP and its communal agenda.

The majority of the seats where the U.C. and the PPI have emerged as significant factors were held by the BSP or the S.P. in 2004. By all indications, the impact of the two outfits is felt, in varying degrees, in 15 seats in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh. The claim of U.C. and PPI leaders that they have enough organisational power and political appeal to win some of these seats is viewed with scepticism, but there is little doubt that in terms of sheer electoral arithmetic the presence of these parties in the fray and the division of minority votes they can cause has given a fillip to the BJP in a number of seats.

It is a moot question whether the saffron party will be able to convert this impetus into electoral victories, given the degeneration its organisational machinery has suffered in the past decade. Vinay Katiyar, BJP leader, summed up the situation as follows: A quantification of the seats that the BJP will ultimately get may not be possible at present, but there is little doubt that we have moved far ahead of the predictions made by former Chief Minister and BJP deserter Kalyan Singh, who put our 2009 tally at five, plus or minus one. Katiyar said that the development efforts in the areas inhabited by the minority community in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh, coupled with the BJPs alliance with the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), would help improve the partys tally substantially. The RLD wields significant influence in some pockets of western Uttar Pradesh.

The party that is most upset with the turn of events is the S.P. The frontrunner in the 2004 polls, with 39 seats, the S.P. had hoped to repeat that performance by capitalising on the anti-incumbency feeling against the Mayawati government. But the emergence of factors with communal overtones is wrecking its chances in a number of constituencies. S.P. leader Ram Gopal Yadav points out that the BSP and the BJP have been playing an orchestrated game to stoke communal polarisation in the State. He is optimistic that the people will ultimately see through these games.

S.P. insiders, however, admit that the party did make some organisational mistakes, such as associating with Kalyan Singh. The resentment this action has evoked within the party has been expressed even by senior leaders such as Azam Khan, and this has strengthened the position of the new Muslim outfits. Clearly, the S.P. needs to take some drastic steps to hold on to the advantage it had at the start of the election process.

In spite of these new developments, the BSP leadership maintains that it will still emerge as the largest force in the State. Our core vote is in tact, incumbency or no incumbency, said Satish Chandra Mishra, the partys Brahmin face and No. 2 in the hierarchy. Other party leaders support this view, stating that the BSP has a strong core vote base in 55 of the 80 seats in the State.

All that we need to do is to supplement this core vote with additional votes from other communities. And it is happening across the State in about 40 to 50 seats. The revival of the BJP in eastern Uttar Pradesh will drive the Muslim minorities in other constituencies to seek the strongest anti-BJP candidate, and that candidate has been provided by the BSP in the majority of seats, said a Lucknow-based BSP leader. The BSP has a large number of muscle-men candidates and it remains to be seen whether the minority community will seek this kind of strength when it looks for an alternative to the BJP.

The Congress campaign, essentially spreading out of Rae Bareli and Amethi, the traditional strongholds of the Nehru-Gandhi family, has had a strong ripple effect this time in the neighbouring constituencies of Sultanpur and Pratapgarh. This has added to the multidimensional nature of the polls in U.P., albeit in a small way.

BIHAR Social equations By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in Patna

THERE are always some imponderables in politics, and they raise their head from time to time. The elections in Bihar this time are no exception. This was how a senior leader of the ruling Janata Dal (United) responded to the Maoist violence in the first phase of polling in the State on April 16. Apparently, the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments assessment was that Bihar was less prone to Maoist attacks on the election process as compared to the neighbouring State of Jharkhand as well as Chhattisgarh and Orissa. However, Maoist attacks were widespread in a number of districts of Bihar. In the holy town of Gaya, a policeman and a Home Guard were killed even as the militants took away an electronic voting machine and four rifles.

Cases of assaults were reported from constituencies such as Maharajganj, Jehanabad, Karakat, Aurangabad and Jamui. In Jamui, the district president of the JD(U) was injured in an attack. Obviously, neither the government nor the ruling combination had anticipated such a concerted attack from the extremists.

In a sense, this lack of anticipation of the threat posed by adversaries and detractors and their potential to cause harm is not confined to the question of Maoist violence. In Bihars current election scenario, this is becoming a crucial weakness of both the major formations in the fray in the State the NDA and the fourth front rustled up by combining the RJD, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the S.P. As a result they have been forced to fight with their backs to the wall in many constituencies, which they had otherwise considered sure seats.

The cases in point are Banka and Supaul, which go to the polls in the third phase on April 30. JD(U) leader Digvijay Singh, who was a Minister in the previous NDA government at the Centre, belongs to one of the aristocratic families of Banka and has been contesting this seat since 1991. In the last elections in 2004 he lost it by just 4,500 votes. Given his track record, Digvijay Singh was sure of contesting the seat this time. Nitish Kumars JD(U) thought otherwise. Digvijay Singh was denied the ticket and Damodar Raut, a leader belonging to the Extremely Backward Castes (EBC), was chosen as the candidate. The argument was that this would help the party consolidate its base among the EBCs. Digvijay Singh promptly quit the JD(U) and has entered the fray as an independent. In the process, he has rallied a sizable section of his own Thakur community, the traditional support base of the BJP, a partner of the JD(U) in the NDA, behind him. The RJD has fielded the dynamic Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav as its candidate and is clearly enjoying the divisions in the NDA.

In Supaul, the situation is reversed. Here the sitting LJP candidate, Ranjeeta Ranjan, was nominated by her party, but the demands made by her controversial husband Pappu Yadav, a murder convict, were not accepted by the fourth front leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad. Ranjeeta Ranjan left the LJP and joined the Congress along with her husband, who was earlier with the Lalu Prasad-led RJD. In Supaul, which goes to the polls in the third phase, and in Purnea, Pappu Yadavs original constituency where his mother Shanti Devi is contesting as an independent, the fourth front has, in a sense, queered the pitch for itself.

Another interesting turn in this round of elections is the manner in which the Congress, which used to accuse all the major forces in Bihar including its one-time allies the RJD and the LJP as havens of criminals, has started accepting scores of people with criminal records, after they have been sent out of the regional parties in the State. The list includes Sadhu Yadav, Lalu Prasads brother-in-law and former RJD MP, who is contesting from West Champaran, Tarkeshwar Singh (Maharajganj) and Shamim Akhtar (Valmikinagar). All of them have dozens of criminal charges against them. Lovely Anand, wife of Anand Mohan, a murder convict who has been barred from contesting by the court, is the Congress candidate from Sheohar. Whatever the electoral gains it makes by accepting leaders like this into its fold, the Congress has certainly lost the moral high ground it had chosen to tread for a quite a long time.

However, many Congress leaders in the State pointed out that the fourth front leaders had insulted them roundly by offering a measly three seats and that the primary task this time around was to win more seats, at any cost, and take revenge on the RJD-LJP leaderships. Whether this would ultimately work out is to be seen, but the Congress leadership is brimming with hope in many a constituency.

According to the senior JD(U) leader, imponderables have affected almost all formations equally and hence it may not alter the net result substantially. In all probability, the only formation that has not succumbed to this factor is the Left combine consisting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist, Liberation) or CPI (ML), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). However, the Left combine is not uniformly strong across the State and is concentrating on select constituencies. Its campaign is most intensive in the constituencies of Siwan, Arrah, Begu Sarai and Jehanabad.

Common perceptions on the net result have it that the NDA and the fourth front will share the majority of the 42 seats, with the Congress and the Left combine managing to win a few seats. The big question, however, is which of the two major formations will go ahead in the battle for the number one spot. Here, the issue comes back to the questions as to which of the formations has the winning social combination. Overall, the Other Backward Classes-Yadav-Dalit Dussadh social combinations of the fourth front would be more or less matched by the OBC-Kurmi-EBC-upper caste combination of the NDA. In this context, the battle of the two formations, right from the early stages, has been to garner a larger chunk of the Muslim minority vote. The community, on its part, seems to be adopting tactical voting on the basis of constituencies and candidates.

This marks a shift from the communitys position in the early stages of the campaign, which held that though Nitish Kumars secular credentials are acceptable, minorities cannot vote for the JD(U) because the NDAs ultimate aim is to elevate Hindutvas original charioteer L.K. Advani to the Prime Ministers position. By all indications, the formation of the fourth front itself has contributed to this shift. For, the functionaries of the RJD and the LJP have been complaining across the State as to how the JD(U) leadership has kept lines of communication open with both the Congress and the Third Front.

Nitish Kumar himself has been, in a sense, reinforcing these perceptions by making statements such as today I am in NDA, who knows where I will be tomorrow. The overall effect of all this should finally result in an edge, albeit not too huge, to the Nitish Kumar-led NDA.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment