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Divided they rule

Print edition : Oct 04, 1997 T+T-

With Kalyan Singh installed as the Chief Minister of U.P., the BSP and he are at loggerheads again. The BJP's national leadership, caught in the crossfire, seems incapable of effective intervention.

BHARATIYA Janata Party leader Kalyan Singh has taken over as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, but more problems are in store for his Bharatiya Janata Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP-BSP) Ministry. Not the least of them is the call given by BSPchief Kanshi Ram for a mass agitation against a Government Order (G.O.) issued by the Kalyan Singh Ministry on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

The many factors involved in the turmoil between the partners in U.P.'s ruling coalition include Kalyan Singh's ideological differences with the BSP, the day-to-day functioning of the Government and the BSP's apprehensions that Kalyan Singh will run rough shod over it. The BSP's attempts to clip his wings have received not-so-tacit support from sections of the State BJP. The dilemma of the BJP's national leadership is that it can neither dump Kalyan Singh, who has a substantial mass base, nor break the alliance with the BSP because it hopes to capture power at the Centre with BSP support.

These factors have been at play since the formation of the coalition in March but their potential to cause damage increased with Kalyan Singh becoming Chief Minister as part of the rotational agreement between the two parties. While Kalyan Singh's first moves as Chief Minister have indicated a streak of independence, the BSP has shown its determination to challenge Kalyan Singh. The BJP national leadership, caught as it is in this crossfire, is finding it difficult to intervene effectively in U.P.

This state of affairs is best illustrated by the controversy on the G.O. on the S.C. and S.T. Act issued under instructions by Kalyan Singh two days after he assumed charge as Chief Minister. Signed by Principal Secretary (Home) R.R. Shah, the G.O. directs district-level officers "to prevent the misuse" of the S.C. and S.T. Act. The Act had been a contentious issue for the last six months. Complaints about its misuse led to an agitation by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) that embarrassed the BJP especially because the implementation of the Act was targeted against the upper castes, which form the major support base of the party.

Political reaction to the controversy is vehement and varied. The S.P., which has agitated against the Act for two months, wants it scrapped. The Congress has asserted that the Act is still relevant to check crimes against Dalits and members of the Scheduled Tribes. The Left parties, despite their political alliance with the S.P. in U.P., took the balanced stand that while the misuse of this Central Act should be investigated and corrected in specific cases, it should not be scrapped as its proper implementation is necessary to prevent atrocities against Dalits and other weaker sections of society all over India.

According to CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat, "The Act was intended to prevent atrocities against the S.C. and S.T. people but while they continue to suffer, the law has become an instrument of political one-upmanship." He said that the BSP and the BJP were settling political scores through the controversy on the Act. "The Act," he said, "has become a pawn over the BJP-BSP political chessboard." In the opinion of the Left parties, Karat said, the best method to resolve the controversy over the alleged misuse of the Act would be to convene an all-party meeting and take corrective measures.

The G.O., which was essentially an attempt to cut the BJP's political losses, stated that district-level officers were reponsible for "ensuring that the Act is not misused against political opponents." The BSP, which had partly consolidated its Dalit support base in the last six months through the implementation of the Act, demanded the withdrawal of the G.O. Kalyan Singh, who maintained that the BSP uproar was unwarranted, rejected its demand. He said that the G.O. exemplified the Government's commitment to justice. Kanshi Ram announced an agitation against the Government from October 15. The Government, of course, will be in a difficult situation if one of its coalition partners leads an agitation against it.

BJP leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, initially took the stand that Kalyan Singh should have consulted the BSP leadership before issuing the G.O. Kalyan Singh supporters countered this, saying that on an average as many as 50 G.O.s are issued daily by the Government. A senior BJP leader who supports Kalyan Singh told Frontline, "If the Chief Minister is to consult Mayawati on every one of these, he will have no time for anything else." The BJP leader also said that during the last phase of the Mayawati regime, there were times when 100 G.O.s were issued a day.

The BJP national leadership recommended consultations as a way out of the impasse. Vajpayee said, "It is a question of a communication gap." Kanshi Ram responded that there was no question of a communication gap when there was no communication at all between the two parties. He asserted that only the withdrawal of the G.O. would satisfy the BSP. This has forced the BJP national leadership into something of a shell of silence.

The BJP has also been confounded by the BSP's other challenges, such as the statement of BSP Minister Buniyad Hussain Ansari that he would offer namaz at the spot of the demolished Babri Masjid. Ansari's statement was in response to Kalyan Singh's visit to Ayodhya to offer prayers at the makeshift Ram temple at the same spot. Kanshi Ram has supported Ansari publicly, stating that there is nothing wrong in Muslims offering namaz at the site.

Similarly, when Kalyan Singh sought a report on IAS officers against whom vigilance inquiries were being conducted, Mayawati responded that no action should be taken against them unless the charges were proved. Many of these officers were given plum postings by the Mayawati Government.

These developments have damaged severely the claim, made by the BSP-BJP leadership a week before the transfer of chief ministership, that problems between the coalition partners are a thing of the past. On September 14, leaders of both parties, including BJP president L.K. Advani, Vajpayee and Kanshi Ram, addressed a joint press conference in Delhi, where they asserted that all controversial issues between the partners had been sorted out. Making a special reference to the controversy that shook the coalition between August 27 and September 14 - on the BSP's demand to change the Speaker along with the Chief Minister - the leaders said that it was the result of a misunderstanding on the BSP's part and that the misunderstanding had been cleared. The BSP agreed to the continuation of senior BJP leader Kesri Nath Tripathi as Speaker. After September 14, coalition leaders, especially those belonging to the BJP, repeated that everything was fine with the alliance.

As a matter of fact, the shaky foundations of these claims became evident at the September 21 swearing-in of the Kalyan Singh Ministry at the K.D. Singh Babu Stadium in Lucknow. On the face of it, there was tremendous excitement in what was termed as the beginning of the second innings of the BJP-BSP Government. The reception for the new Chief Minister when he came into the stadium and took the oath of office was indeed impressive. The crowd shouted slogans and burst into prolonged applause. This atmosphere of elation disappeared within minutes as BSP's R.K. Chaudhary was invited to take the oath of office. Chaudhary walked up to the front of the dais and waved to the crowd. There was no response. The Minister looked around and waved again. Still, not a single clap was heard. Without trying again to drum up enthusiasm from the gathering, Chaudhary read the oath as fast as he could and retreated. After that, every BSP Minister was greeted with silence even as the BJP Ministers received varying degrees of applause.

It was evident that the gathering consisted of BJP cadres and that the BSP had not cared to organise even a handful of its workers for the "grand beginning of the second innings of the ministry." Among the BJP cadres, Kalyan Singh supporters were those who cheered the loudest. BJP Ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra, who are considered close to the BSP and were reportedly part of the operation that had tried to scuttle Kalyan Singh's chances of becoming Chief Minister, received a lukewarm reception.

When this feature of the meeting was pointed out to Kalraj Mishra immediately afterwards, he said that it reflected differences between the coalition partners at the grassroots level. It would take time before they were settled, he said, especially in the context of the recent acrimony on the Speaker's issue. Mishra told Frontline that "the leadership is committed to making the coalition a success and this is bound to permeate to lower levels soon. The fact that both the parties have strong cadre bases will help the reconciliation process."

However, Mishra's faith in the commitment of the coalition leadership was contradicted by Kalyan Singh's first press conference as Chief Minister. Although Kalyan Singh prefaced his address by reiterating that the problems in the coalition were over, almost all his comments on specific issues of government contained barbed references to his predecessor Mayawati and her Government's style of functioning. He said that the maintenance of law and order and the "establishment of a terror-free society" would be given top priority and that the criterion to evaulate law and order would be a sense of security among the masses and not statistics. His criticism was directed at the Mayawati Government, which was well known for publishing statistics intended to show a reduction in crime.

Kalyan Singh made a veiled reference to Mayawati's bias towards promoting developmental programmes in specially designated Ambedkar villages. He asserted that his Government would attempt to provide all-round development to all villages and would not concentrate on a few selected ones. He challenged the Mayawati Government's record on mass transfer of bureaucrats and senior police officers as well as its tendency to give promotions to officials on the basis of caste. His said that "the morale of the bureaucracy will be boosted by removing the spectre of mass transfers which creates uncertainty and insecurity" and that "officers will be evaulated not on the basis of caste, religion and community but on the basis of experience, integrity and competence."

The G.O. on the alleged misuse of the S.C. and S.T. Act came in the next 24 hours. The BSP leadership's response against the G.O. was vehement. At a press conference on September 23, Mayawati demanded the "withdrawal of the anti-Dalit G.O." and accused Kalyan Singh of being in league with S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in pursuing anti-Dalit policies. "The Chief Minister should be named Kalyan Singh Yadav," she said. Mayawati's diatribe was followed by a letter from R.K. Chaudhary to the Principal Secretary (Home) enquiring into the circumstances in which the G.O. was issued. "Inform me within 24 hours whether a G.O. like this has ever been issued before and the reasons for issuing the present one," Chaudhary's letter demanded.

Two days later, Mayawati convened a meeting of BSP legislators and office-bearers. She exhorted party MLAs, especially its upper-caste MLAs, not to accept favours from Kalyan Singh and other BJP Ministers, as most of them, she said, were anti-Dalit. Kanshi Ram made an appearance at this meeting. He called another meeting of party MLAs and office-bearers and announced the agitation.

According to a senior BSP leader, the BSP strategy was to consolidate its mass base through a dual policy of enjoying the benefits of government and playing the role of a strong opposition on Dalit issues. The BSP used similar tactics successfully during its coalition experiment with the S.P. in 1993-94.

The timing of the agitation against the G.O. on the S.C. and S.T. Act is also significant. The agitation starts on October 15, two days before Kalyan Singh is to appear in the Special Court dealing with the Babri Masjid demolition case. If the court proceedings become too hot for Kalyan Singh, the BSP can demand a change of Chief Minister. The upper-caste lobby of the BJP and its leaders, Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra, who are not involved in the demolition case, are likely to encourage the BSP efforts.

By contrast, neither the Kalyan Singh group nor the BJP national leadership has imaginative plans to handle the situation. Both sections are united only on the issue of fighting the demolition case. According to BJP sources, both sections will fall back on the Hindutva agenda if the alliance with the BSP breaks. Here too, they differ on the details. The national leadership is ready for compromises to preserve the alliance with the BSP, while the Kalyan Singh group does not mind a collapse of the coalition.

The BJP national leadership had reportedly held Kalyan Singh back from changing BJP Ministers or altering their portfolios, although he had wanted to do so. This ensured that pro-BSP Ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra would retain some clout. Kalyan Singh could reallocate only the portfolios of two BSP Ministers, and that too at the behest of the BSP leadership.

Meanwhile, BSP Minister Hari Kishan Srivastava, whose Women's Welfare portfolio was taken away from him and who was given the portfolio of Culture and Youth Affairs instead, resigned from the Ministry. He has revolted against Mayawati and accused her of collecting bribes during her regime. How far this revolt will help Kalyan Singh in the intra-coalition power play is to be seen. The BSP leadership is confident that this incident will not affect its ability to call the shots in the alliance. Given the BSP's centralised organisational structure and the loyalty of the cadres to Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, this assessment does not appear off the mark. At present, even though it has the Chief Minister's post, it is the BJP that is in greater distress.