Complex political calculations aimed at larger gains have gone into the Bharatiya Janata Party's decision to help Mulayam Singh seize the opportunity to form the government.
THE formation of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh offers a lesson in realpolitik for even the most astute politician. The new political situation in the State sees arch rivals, Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in each other's company. It did not take them long to make common cause, albeit surreptitiously, and range themselves against the firebrand Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati.
It was the BJP's tacit support - it did not work hard to spoil the S.P.'s chances - that facilitated the formation of a government headed by Mulayam Singh after Mayawati tendered her resignation on August 26.
What possibly could be the BJP's game plan in propping up Mulayam Singh, a man better known for his ruthless handling of the Ayodhya movement? He was Chief Minister in October-November 1990 when L.K. Advani's rath yatra from Somnath hurtled towards Ayodhya and communal frenzy rose to its peak. He ordered the police to open fire on kar sevaks who were bent on reaching the Babri Masjid on October 30, 1990 and November 2, 1990. Since then, Mulayam Singh had remained the BJP's bete noire. In February 2002, the party used all its powers to prevent Mulayam Singh from coming to power after the elections threw up a hung Assembly. The S.P. had emerged the single largest party, followed by the BSP. Then, as now, Mulayam Singh had staked his claim to form the government, saying he would prove his majority on the floor of the House, but Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri refused to invite him unless he submitted an authentic list of MLAs supporting him. This resulted in the Assembly being kept in suspended animation, and later paved the way for the BJP's third cohabitation with the BSP in power.
When Mayawati recommended dissolution of the Assembly and imposition of President's Rule, common sense and precedence dictated that the BJP would either opt for President's Rule or again keep the Assembly in suspended animation in order to resort to machinations for Ministry formation. Hence it came as a surprise to observers when BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, emerging from the party's Parliamentary Board meeting on August 26, announced that the BJP was not in favour of President's Rule. He also made it clear that the BJP would neither try and form an alternative government nor obstruct any Opposition party capable of providing such a government. "We have left it to the discretion of the Governor who would take the right decision taking into account the prevailing political situation," he declared. In other words, the BJP gave the go-ahead to the Governor to invite Mulayam Singh to form the government.
Taking his cue, the Governor, within hours, asked Mulayam Singh to submit a list of MLAs supporting him. Mulayam Singh submitted a letter claiming the support of 210 MLAs in the 402-member House. Interestingly, the list included a 14-member breakaway group of the BSP. The rebel MLAs met the Governor and expressed their desire to extend support to Mulayam Singh. The support of the BSP MLAs would have become infructuous under normal circumstances because they would have come under the purview of the anti-defection law. But these certainly are not normal circumstances. So, on August 28, the Governor invited Mulayam Singh to form the government and asked him to prove his majority within 14 days.
The question being asked is when did the BJP discover "democratic norms", as Venkaiah Naidu painstakingly tried to prove. Why this sudden camaraderie with Mulayam Singh?
Despite proclamations to the contrary, the BJP was taken unawares by Mayawati's sudden assault. The party found itself on the high seas, unprepared for fresh elections. Once BJP leaders regained their composure, they figured that a Mulayam Singh-led government would at least provide them the breather to revive the Ram temple movement. Armed with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report, the Sangh Parivar appears set to re-launch the Ayodhya movement, and with Mulayam at the helm, the BJP's task becomes easier. An aggressive movement would have been impossible under President's Rule. "President's Rule would mean Central rule. How could we launch a mass movement against our own regime? Mulayam Singh Yadav at least gives us this forum, the forum of the people's movement so that we can regain our core vote bank," a senior BJP leader said. With the certainty of the Dalit vote snatched from them, BJP leaders realised they needed to revive their core support base. According to senior BJP leaders, the Ram temple issue gives them the required foothold, especially in the wake of the ASI report, and Mulayam Singh, with his "maulana" tag, provides them adequate ground.
The BJP's State president Vinay Katiyar gave away the larger game plan when he declared: "Mulayam Singh Yadav is better known for donning the cap (a reference to his proximity to Muslims), now it is his responsibility to convince Muslims to give up their claim over Ayodhya. Even the ASI report has established that there did exist a magnificent Hindu temple where the mosque was built. If Muslims do not give up their claim over Ayodhya even now, ek nirnayak toofaan khada hoga Ram mandir ke liye (a decisive battle will be launched over the Ram temple)". Katiyar, who rose from Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) ranks, said he would go from door to door to mobilise people in favour of the temple.
Mulayam Singh, however, dismisses any possibility of a mass movement, because "the temple movement has lost people's support". In his opinion, such vain slogans would not arouse the public any more. "The intervening period (since 1990) has made the people realise that the BJP is only fooling them in the name of a Ram temple; and that the party is actually not interested in a solution to the dispute. Won't they know that every time an election approaches, the BJP talks of the temple, and once the elections are over forgets about it?" he asks.
Kalyan Singh, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal leader who presided over the Babri Masjid demolition as the BJP Chief Minister, thinks the BJP would try to whip up passions on the temple issue but would not succeed. "The temple movement no longer has the same steam as it had between 1989 and 1992. Besides, the court is now involved in it and any solution can come only through the court, no matter what the BJP says. The BJP does not want a solution, it only wants to whip up a frenzy but it will not succeed because it has lost people's faith now," he says.
The other factor behind the BJP's decision to help Mulayam Singh, is the larger political ramifications that an S.P.-Congress(I) alliance in Uttar Pradesh would have in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, which will go to the polls later this year. In all these four States, the BSP too has its pockets of influence. If the BSP joins hands with the Congress(I) (already there are indications of this taking place), it could prove costly for the BJP. If the Congress(I) joined the S.P. in Uttar Pradesh, then the possibility of the Congress(I) and the BSP coming together elsewhere would become remote. This aspect too was discussed in great detail at the BJP's Parliamentary Board meeting and it was decided that the best course would be to create a situation in Uttar Pradesh that would force the S.P. and the Congress(I) to forge an alliance.
Explaining the advantage of letting Mulayam Singh form the government, a BJP leader said: "Even if the Congress(I) supports the Mulayam Singh government from outside, Mayawati would have nothing to do with it and this would work in the BJP's favour. In some constituencies of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Dalit votes could be decisive. Thus by pitting Mulayam Singh and the Congress(I) together, we have at least got the bother of Dalit votes out of our way. The BSP would cut into Congress(I) votes and in the process the BJP would stand to gain."
Besides these two larger motives, there was another too - that of "teaching" Mayawati a lesson. Katiyar explains that the S.P. and the BSP would be busy settling scores, giving the BJP enough time at the grassroots level to regain lost ground." Mayawati's repression had crossed all limits. There is bound to be a backlash, and fortunately this would be from the S.P.'s cadre, which was mostly at the receiving end. Thus while the BJP has been spared the burden of being dubbed anti-Dalit, the Congress(I) would in the long run pay the price for supporting Mulayam Singh," says a BJP leader.
The BJP, though, has taken a big risk. In order to consolidate his vote bank, Mulayam Singh will act tough with the Sangh Parivar cadre if they try to create trouble on the Ayodhya front. The gamble may prove too costly for the BJP, especially when the cases against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case are being heard in the Rae Bareli court. It remains to be seen whether the BJP would gain out of this calculated risk. For the time being, though, BJP leaders are busy celebrating their deliverance from Mayawati.