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A Pyrrhic victory?

Print edition : Nov 01, 1997 T+T-

By engineering a majority on his terms, Kalyan Singh has made some personal gains, but the BJP has paid for this with its credibility.

MINUTES after taking over as Chief Minister on September 21, Kalyan Singh was asked by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from western Uttar Pradesh whether the Bahujan Samaj Party and the upper-caste group within the BJP would allow him to govern the State without hindrance.

Kalyan Singh responded with what the leader thought was a touch of bravado, pardonable in a politician who had returned to power under difficult circumstances. "Rajniti mutthhi mein hein. Sab kuchh theek karoonga" (Politics is firmly in my grip. Everything will be set right), said the new Chief Minister.

"In retrospect," says the leader from western U.P., "I understand the full meaning of Kalyan Singh's remark. Kalyan Singh was determined to advance his political line - of putting together a majority for the BJP without depending on the BSP - and he knew that being in the Chief Minister's chair would be of immense help in this. He is not bothered by the grand theories of the Central leadership on the need to maintain the alliance with the BSP for strengthening the party at the national level."

Kalyan Singh achieved his objective on October 21, when a motion of confidence in his one-month-old Government was passed in the Assembly by 222 votes to nil, after unprecedented violence in the House had forced out Opposition MLAs belonging to the Congress(I), the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. The advantage of incumbency was decisive in helping Kalyan Singh establish his majority. An incumbent Chief Minister has tremendous access to resources and the post enhances his manoeuvrability. It is doubtful whether Kalyan Singh would have been able to drum up majority support had he not been Chief Minister or if he had not been given an opportunity for a floor test in the Assembly.

Until October 21 Kalyan Singh had been unable to deliver on his claim - made since October 1996 (when Assembly elections threw up a hung Assembly) - that sections of MLAs from the Congress(I), the BSP, the Janata Dal, the Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party (BKKP) and even the S.P. were ready to support the BJP, the single largest party in the Assembly. It is clear that a majority of the 46 MLAs who crossed sides to support the BJP (22 from the Congress(I), 12 from the BSP, 3 from the Janata Dal and 9 independents) were motivated by the benefits that Kalyan Singh as Chief Minister could offer them.

According to sources in the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress, the group that broke away from the Congress(I), the decision to support the Government was firmed up after 10 of its 22 MLAs were offered ministerial posts and six others were offered the chairmanship of State-run corporations. Of the 12 MLAs who defected from the BSP, six were expected to become Ministers. According to Sukhpal Pandey, one of the BSP defectors, more BSP MLAs will cross over to their side.

Kalyan Singh was not overly concerned about his own pronouncements about political morality and the party's public position disfavouring defections from other parties. Explaining the BJP's stand, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had said on May 28, 1996 that if power came its way by breaking other parties, "we will not touch it with a bargepole."

Significantly, one of those who have reportedly been offered a ministerial post is Harishankar Tiwari of Gorakhpur (one of the 22 Congress(I) MLAs who broke away), who has been charge-sheeted in some 50 cases; the charges against him relate to murder, gun-running, dacoity and smuggling. Ironically, when it was in power in 1991-92, the Kalyan Singh Government had booked him under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.

The operation to win over MLAs was spearheaded by Kalyan Singh; he was assisted by BJP State president Rajnath Singh, party general secretary Pramod Mahajan and Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is reputed to have much experience in dealing with non-BJP MLAs who wish to go over in support of the saffron party. Mahajan and Shekhawat had flown to Lucknow to give the operation its final touches.

The other factors that came into play to help Kalyan Singh take a "firm grip" on the political situation were secondary to the incumbency advantage. The other factors cited by BJP insiders and observers were the general disinclination among MLAs to face elections, their desire to see a stable government in place, concerns among MLAs belonging to the upper castes about growing Dalit "assertiveness" and the saffronisation of the Congress(I). Significantly, of the 46 MLAs who crossed over, 35 belong to the upper castes.

THE saffronisation of the Congress(I) is another dimension of the whole episode. This is the first time that the BJP has been able to win over such a large chunk of the Congress(I) to its side. The proclaimed ideological incompatibility of the two parties and the identification of the BJP as the main enemy of the Congress(I) by its national leadership did not stand in the way of two-thirds of the number of Congress(I) MLAs in U.P. joining hands with the BJP.

Interestingly, Naresh Agarwal, the leader of the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress, says that his party has no ideological differences with the national leadership of the Congress(I). Agarwal defended his decision to support Kalyan Singh on two grounds: the desire for a "stable" government and resentment over the Central leadership's move in "imposing" the leadership of N.D. Tiwari, "who had betrayed the party and formed his own Congress", on the State unit of the party.

THE current developments in U.P. have brought into focus Congress(I) vice-president Jitendra Prasada's role in saffronising the party. Of the 22 MLAs in the breakaway Congress, 18 belonged to the Jitendra Prasada group in the State unit of the party. That Jitendra Prasada and Tiwari did not get along was well known, but from all accounts it was not just a personality clash that led to the split. According to sources in the BJP, the new association between Congress(I) MLAs and the BJP could be the precursor to more such associations involving many States. These sources assert that Jitendra Prasada has held discussions with senior BJP leaders and their associates about working out some kind of an arrangement between sections of the Congress(I) and the BJP to keep "regional and casteist forces" at bay.

The proposed arrangement, the sources add, envisages electoral adjustments in States where either the BJP or the Congress(I) is strong. The idea is that the Congress(I) can help the BJP in U.P. where the saffron party is strong and the BJP can return the favour in Andhra Pradesh or Kerala where the Congress(I) has greater political and organisational reach. There are only a handful of States - such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat - where the parties are pitted against each other.

Questioned by Frontline on the proposed "arrangement", Jitendra Prasada denied that there had been any move in this direction. "I will be the last person to join hands with the BJP," he said. However, the fact is that almost all his supporters in the Congress Legislature Party in U.P have chosen to support Kalyan Singh.

The triumph in the vote of confidence not only ensured the survival of the Kalyan Singh Ministry but signalled three major personal gains for him. First, his success in engineering defections from the Congress(I), the BSP and the Janata Dal has set back his opponents in the BJP, principally the upper-caste group led by Ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra. That group wanted to continue the alliance with the BSP as part of a national agenda for the party and as a means to keep Kalyan Singh in check. The upper-caste group had used its proximity to the BSP leadership, which has a mass base among Dalit communities, to counter Kalyan Singh's stature as the most popular BJP leader in the State. With the BSP out of the way, the upper-caste group can no longer play this game; Kalyan Singh will effectively dictate terms to them.

Secondly, Kalyan Singh takes credit for halting the erosion of the BJP's support base among the upper castes, especially Thakurs. Upper-caste groups, predictably enough, resented the alleged "misuse" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Mayawati Government. They claimed that false criminal cases were being foisted on them. This had created substantial social tension between Dalits and Thakurs in many parts of the State. The principal Opposition party, the S.P., had launched an agitation against the alleged misuse of the S.C. and S.T. Act.

Thirdly, by advocating a line that did not conform to that of the Central leadership of his party - and was in fact directly opposed to Vajpayee's line - and seeing it through to a successful stage, Kalyan Singh has also acquired a higher national profile within his party. According to former BJP national council member Hariraj Singh Tyagi, "what accentuates Kalyan Singh's inner-party appeal is that he was able to win over members from other parties without conceding major positions of power" - something the BJP or its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh, had never accomplished, he said.

Since 1967, the right-wing party has participated in many alliances to strengthen itself, but on each occasion the leadership had to be conceded to alliance partners, even when they were smaller than the Hindutva party. In 1967, the Jan Sangh emerged as the single largest party in U.P with 98 MLAs; yet it had to give the chief ministership to Charan Singh, who had the support of only 16 MLAs. In 1979, although the Jan Sangh faction was the largest component of the Janata Party, it had to concede the post of Leader of the Opposition to Raj Mangal Pandey of the Congress For Democracy who had the support of less than 10 MLAs. Again, in 1997, when an arrangement was worked out with the BSP under which the chief ministership was to be given on a rotational basis to the two parties, the BSP, the smaller alliance partner, had to be given the first turn. Kalyan Singh, says Tyagi, "has changed this pattern by not conceding leadership to those who have come over from other parties."

HOWEVER, Kalyan Singh's personal gains by themselves may not translate into political advantages to the BJP; nor will they improve its organisational cohesiveness. Already, sections of the anti-Kalyan Singh group have started a whisper campaign within the party to the effect that he has sabotaged all chances of the party coming to power at the Centre by alienating the BSP, which has a significant following among Dalit voters in U.P., Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. This campaign is bound to intensify once the euphoria of recent success dies down. At that stage, Vajpayee himself is expected to lead the campaign and this could accentuate problems for the Central leadership. It is well known in BJP circles that it was Advani's not-so-tacit support that helped Kalyan Singh carry through his plan to what he deems success. There is considerable bad blood between the two leaders over the Govindacharya episode (see separate story on Page 132).

The Kalyan Singh group claims that by the time the next general election comes round, the BSP's influence would have diminished and that other parties will be wary of entering into an alliance with it, given its political record. According to a leader close to Kalyan Singh, he proposes to use the inquiry into corruption charges against the BSP leadership to attain this objective (see box). If this plan works, the BSP is in for a hard time.

Significantly, there have been no defections from the ranks of the S.P. Its leadership is also confident that its grassroots support base will not be damaged by the continuation of the Kalyan Singh Government, although it concedes that there is an element of disappointment in the rank and file on account of the latest developments. Interestingly, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav hopes that the S.P. will win over a section of the Dalit votes in the present political context (see interview).

Just how far these projections come true in the medium and long terms remains to be seen. One fact, though, is clear: it is Kalyan Singh who has made short-term gains. The price the party has paid for this is its credibility: it has no basis whatever to claim the moral high ground in politics.