THE UTTAR PRADESH DRAMA

Print edition : September 26, 2003

Political equations in Uttar Pradesh go into a spin with Mayawati suddenly snapping her alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the latter, in a desperate move, enabling its arch enemy Mulayam Singh Yadav to form the government.

in Lucknow

POLITICS, at least in Uttar Pradesh, is the art and craft of the impossible. The State hurtled from one impossible situation to another soon after the Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (BSP-BJP) coalition came to an end with the BJP withdrawing support to the Mayawati government and the latter recommending the dissolution of the House. On August 29, four days after Mayawati made the first move, established political equations were turned upside down and political assumptions were demolished, with parties opposed to the BSP facilitating Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav's third stint as Chief Minister. Interestingly enough, as the frenzied political activity in Lucknow unfolded, the eye of every political group was on the coming Assembly elections in four States and possible future alliances at the Centre.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at the State Assembly in Lucknow on September 2, the opening day of the session. He won the vote of confidence on September 8 by a huge margin of 90 votes.-

Obviously, the script of the U.P. drama was written in Delhi, with the Congress(I) and BJP central leadership remote-controlling the activities of their respective party units in the State.

To begin with, Mayawati sprang a surprise on the BJP, her relations with which had remained troubled ever since the controversy over the Taj Heritage Corridor project broke out. In an unexpected move, she called an urgent meeting of the Cabinet, prior to the BSP convention on August 25, got it to recommend the dissolution of the Assembly, and severed ties with the BJP, to the utter shock of the coalition partner. She had planned the move well in advance, and had actually "invited" the media the previous evening "to come prepared with full gear tomorrow to cover lots of spicy news".

Unprepared for such an eventuality (after all, the BSP had wholeheartedly supported the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government barely a week earlier during the debate on the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha), the BJP members of the Cabinet could do nothing but stage a noisy walkout. And minutes before Mayawati submitted her recommendation to Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri, BJP Legislature Party leader Lalji Tandon gave a letter to the Governor conveying the party's decision to withdraw support to the government. So shaken were the BJP leaders that they left the Raj Bhavan through the back door, avoiding the media.

The BJP leadership in Delhi took its time to react. In fact, it appeared that it did not immediately grasp the impact of the political turmoil in Lucknow. Even as Mayawati recommended dissolution of the Assembly, imposition of President's Rule and the holding of fresh elections, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu was celebrating the completion of an ekta yatra of the party's Tamil Nadu unit and making claims to the effect that the BJP-BSP ties were intact.

It took the BJP a full 24 hours to recover from the blow. The BJP Parliamentary Party, which met on the morning of August 26, finally decided that it would accept President's Rule, as it was utterly unprepared for fresh elections. It also decided that it would not obstruct the formation of an alternative government, even if it meant a government headed by its bete noire, Mulayam Singh.

Now it was the turn of Mayawati to be taken by surprise. She had obviously not expected the BJP to refuse to support her demand for President's Rule and fresh elections. She could not have imagined that the BJP would make way for Mulayam Singh. But once this became obvious, she tendered her resignation, fuming at the BJP's "betrayal".

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati.-

She launched a scathing attack on her erstwhile partner for conspiring to topple her government. She said that over three dozen BJP MLAs were planning to switch loyalties to the Opposition camp and that three dozen S.P. MLAs were ready to be "bought" by her. In this situation, she said, it was not possible to run the government "as per constitutional provisions", and so the Assembly should be dissolved and President's Rule imposed so that a new government with a clear mandate could be elected. One reason for her resignation, she said, was "the pitiable condition of the Opposition because of rampant frustration among its ranks".

Meanwhile, the Opposition parties had got into the act. Leaders of the three main groups, former Chief Minister and Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) leader Kalyan Singh, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh, and Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Jagdambika Pal met the Governor separately, and expressed support for an alternative government. They then met Mulayam Singh at the residence of Kalyan Singh and discussed the details of an alternative government. By late evening on August 26, Mulayam Singh met the Governor and staked claim to form the government and pressed for a trial of strength on the floor of the House. He said that since the S.P. was the single largest party in the Assembly, it should be invited to form the government.

The Governor did not respond immediately, but he later asked Mulayam Singh to submit a list of MLAs supporting him. Mulayam Singh declined to do this because he obviously did not have the numbers. He only had a list of 197 MLAs and was banking on breaking either the BJP or the BSP.

In the fast-paced developments, Mulayam Singh managed to rustle up the required numbers and gave a list of 210 MLAs to the Governor by the evening of August 27. This list included 14 BSP MLAs, who told the Governor personally that they would support a government led by Mulayam Singh. It is at this point that the BJP's complicity in the installation of the government became obvious. Under the rules, the BSP MLAs' support should not have been taken into account because they did not constitute one-third of the BSP Legislature Party. But the Governor apparently ignored this and, on the morning of August 28, invited Mulayam Singh to take the oath as Chief Minister and asked him to prove his majority within 14 days. This invitation was obviously extended in anticipation that many more BSP MLAs would support the alternative government, thus protecting the 14 from the provisions of the anti-defection law.

Party's rally in Lucknow on August 25.-

This is exactly what happened. Once Mulayam Singh took the oath of office, "operation break BSP" began in right earnest, and by September 6, the number of BSP defectors had swollen to 37, the required one-third. Mayawati, who, foresaw the development, resigned from her membership of the Assembly on August 28, in order to escape the humiliation of having to lead a party that was reduced to the third position in the House.

The irony of the situation was too blatant to be ignored. The BJP, which had done all it could to prevent Mulayam Singh from becoming Chief Minister in February 2002, helped him form the government; Ajit Singh, who had in the past 14 years pursued an anti-Mulayam Singh line, pledged support for him; Kalyan Singh, who had described Mulayam Singh as the Ravana of modern times who killed Ram devotees, helped him muster the numbers; and the Congress(I), whose president Sonia Gandhi missed the prime ministerial chair in 1999 because Mulayam Singh refused to support her, extended its hand of support as well.

The political wheel had turned a full circle in the State. The BJP and the Congress(I) have their own reasons to be friendly towards Mulayam Singh. Once Mayawati deserted it, the BJP was left without the support of her huge Dalit constituency. Besides, Mayawati's despotic, brazen style of functioning and sectarian Dalit agenda had marginalised the BJP's core, upper-caste votebase. Her misgovernance had left the party without any issue to approach the voter with. So it suited the BJP to have Mulayam Singh at the helm for a while.

For one, it would give it time to put the party back on the rails, even if it was by raising the Ram temple issue, the only issue the BJP is left with. Besides, it was felt that in order to undo the harm done by Mayawati to its upper-caste voters, the best way was to use Mulayam Singh as the counter. If there was a backlash against Dalits in the rural areas, Mulayam Singh would be blamed and not the BJP, thus it would escape being dubbed anti-Dalit. At the same time, the hurt feelings of the upper caste would be assuaged to a great extent. Moreover, Mulayam Singh was also viewed as the only one who could take on Mayawati. If all this could happen without Mulayam Singh poaching into the BJP's Legislature Party, then it suited the party well.

The Congress(I) extended "outside support" to Mulayam Singh keeping its larger interest in mind. It is now eyeing the BSP for a possible understanding for the coming Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections next year (see separate story). The BSP's company would prove much more beneficial than the S.P.'s, whose following is confined to U.P. Therefore the party wants to keep its options open. (There is a catch here. The Congress(I) MLAs, who are desperate to become Ministers, might break away. But the party leadership is prepared to take this calculated risk. In such a situation, senior Congress(I) leaders warn, Mulayam Singh would have to be prepared for the withdrawal of Congress(I) support.

Mulayam Singh Yadav speaks in the Assembly, after moving the confidence motion, on September 8.-

"We are not supporting the government so that our 16 MLAs could become Ministers. Our support is based on our commitment to an alternative secular government once the communal BJP is ousted. Besides, our political strategy could not be U.P.-centric, we have to keep our larger interest in mind," a senior Congress leader said. Besides, the Congress(I) would also want to watch how far Mulayam Singh was willing to go with it in its fight against communalism, said Subodh Kant Sahay, who represented Sonia Gandhi at the swearing-in ceremony. Within the Congress(I) too there is a section that wants no tie-up with Mayawati because "she is unpredictable, corrupt and opportunistic," said Jagdambika Pal.

AS for Mayawati, it is becoming clear that she regrets her decision to snap ties with the BJP in such haste. Her remorse came out at the press conference she called on September 4 to explain how her government fell. She tried to put things in perspective and undo the damage that she had done by attacking the Prime Minister and the entire BJP. She tried to mend fences by saying that she fell a victim to internal groupism within the BJP. "I was betrayed by the pro-Vajpayee group within the BJP. Even though Vajpayee wanted my government to complete its term, he was forced by the members of his group. Those who pressured him into toppling my government are Rajnath Singh, Pramod Mahajan, Lalji Tandon and NDA convener George Fernandes," she said, trying to distance Vajpayee from the recent developments.

This was quite in contrast with her combative 30-page letter to the Prime Minister, which she had read out at the BSP rally on August 25. In that letter she had charged the entire BJP with double-crossing her and accused Vajpayee personally of criticising her "without ascertaining facts" during his speech in the Lok Sabha on August 19 when he was replying to the debate on the no-confidence motion.

Referring to the Excise Department raids on S.P. leader Amar Singh's residence in Ghaziabad, Vajpayee told Mulayam Singh that "the Centre has no role in it. Yeh Uttar Pradesh sarkar ki karastani hai," (this is the handiwork of the Uttar Pradesh government). The BSP had taken strong objection to the use of the word "karastani" which has a negative connotation. On September 4, Mayawati threw enough hints that she could still consider going with the BJP in the next round of elections, by giving a clean chit to the "Advani group", which she said, always wanted her government to complete its term.

As for the Congress(I), she categorically said that she would not seek an alliance with that party. Mayawati knows that an alliance with the BJP would be more beneficial to her than one with the Congress(I). The BSP had a pre-poll alliance with the Congress(I) in the 1996 Assembly elections but the party did not gain much and the Congress(I) failed at that time to help her become Chief Minister. After almost one year of President's Rule, it was the BJP that helped her become the Chief Minister, under a six-monthly rotational arrangement. Besides, she is aware that the Congress(I), with a plethora of senior leaders around, would never give her the long rope that the BJP did. Her pronouncements at the press conference are indication enough that she is still willing to do business with the BJP.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, Assembly Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi and former BJP Legislature Party leader Lalji Tandon.-

The BJP, however, is not jumping with joy at this revelation. A section within the party opposes any alliance with her. "There is no question of an alliance with her in future. She has no morals, no ideology. It would be suicidal for us," former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh said. But another section thinks the party should keep its options open. "There is nothing permanent in politics. What she said is a positive indication," party spokesman Prakash Jawdekar said in New Delhi.

EVEN as the BJP, the BSP and the Congress(I) weigh their options, Mulayam Singh will be walking a tight rope in Lucknow. The contradictions within his coalition are such that he will always be under pressure. Not used to working under pressure, Mulayam Singh will certainly find the going tough. It goes without saying that he will have to make compromises and adjustments to run the government. "Some compromises and adjustments will have to be there," he admitted, but sounded optimistic about the longevity of his government, saying the parties had come together with just one agenda, which was good governance, and so there would be no problem.

Besides political pressure, Mulayam will have to handle pressures of a different kind as well. He will have to prove that his government's decisions are not influenced by a handful of industrial houses. The presence of the Reliance group's Anil Ambani, Sahara India chairman Subrata Roy and Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej at the swearing-in ceremony has given rise to doubts about their intentions in the State. Mulayam Singh will now have to prove that these dignitaries were there in their personal capacity and that they will not hold sway over the State government's business decisions.

One thing, however, still remains a mystery. Why did Mayawati act the way she did? If she felt the BJP was misusing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to pressure her in the Taj Corridor case, she could have countered it better while remaining in power. Now, with the CBI on her trail, her chief political rival as Chief Minister and the BJP apparently in no mood to bail her out, she is in a fix.

Amitabh Bachchan and his wife Jaya Bachchan, at the swearing-in of Mulayam Singh on August 29.-SUBIR ROY

Although Mulayam Singh has said there will be no witch-hunting, Kalyan Singh has already started demanding an inquiry against her for all the scandals that are now coming to light, including a multi-crore land scam in Noida near Delhi. She is alleged to have doled out expensive land at prime locations in Noida to her relatives at dirt cheap prices.

Besides, the former government's counsel in the Taj Corridor project, Ajay Agrawal, is now spilling the beans. He has accused Mayawati of amassing huge wealth from the Taj Corridor project and has threatened to hand over proof for it to the CBI. He has also given the CBI details of property that Mayawati had acquired recently either in her own name or in the name of her relatives, in and around Delhi. This could spell trouble for Mayawati.

If the BJP was willing to go to any extent to keep the coalition going until the Lok Sabha elections, then why did Mayawati pull the rug from under her own feet? She obviously miscalculated. She would never have imagined that the BJP would actually allow Mulayam Singh to take over. The BSP challenged the Governor's invitation to Mulayam Singh in the Supreme Court. It pleaded that once the Cabinet had recommended dissolution of the Assembly, the Governor had no right to invite anybody else to form the government. The apex court dismissed the plea on September 8, also the day on which Mulayam Singh faced the vote of confidence in the Assembly.

Rebel BSP legislators look on as Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh greets Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi in Lucknow on September 6.-

The developments prior to the vote rendered it a mere formality and Mulayam Singh won by a huge margin of 90 votes (244 votes in favour and 154 against in a House of 402). A total of 398 members participated in the voting after a day-long debate. The 37 BSP members who broke away and formed the Loktantrik Samaj Party, which was recognised by the Speaker, later merged it with the S.P., taking its tally to 181. Mulayam Singh has the support of 16 Congress(I) MLAs, 14 of the RLD, four of the RKP, two each of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Loktantrik Congress Party, 15 Independents, one MLA each from the Apna Dal, the Janata Party, the Samajwadi Janata Party, the Samata Party and the National Loktantrik Party.

Soon after he was sworn in Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh expanded his Cabinet, inducting his brother Shivpal Yadav along with five others. They include Mohammad Azam Khan of the S.P.; Kalyan Singh's son Rajbeer Singh and Kusum Rai, Kalyan Singh's confidante, from the RKP; and Kokab Hamid and Anuradha Chaudhary (Ajit Singh loyalist) of the RLD. Incidentally, Mulayam Singh has always been accused of nepotism.

Well begun, they say, is half done. But if this is the beginning, what does the future hold for the State?

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