Mayawati triggers a turmoil in Uttar Pradesh with her decision to file criminal cases against her political opponents for alleged misuse of the discretionary fund, and makes the Bharatiya Janata Party, her partner in the ruling coalition, worry about a popular backlash.
POLITICAL vendetta has found a new patron in Uttar Pradesh. In an unprecedented move, Chief Minister Mayawati got more than 140 cases filed against Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president and her bete noire, Mulayam Singh Yadav, in over 40 districts of the State for alleged misuse of the Chief Minister's Discretionary Fund when he headed the government between September 1995 and May 1996. She also got first information reports (FIRs) registered against Mulayam Singh, his party general secretary Amar Singh, S.P. Legislature Party leader Azam Khan, and S.P. Member of the Legislative Assembly Shivpal Singh Yadav, younger brother of Mulayam Singh, for making public compact discs depicting her as making derogatory remarks against Hindu religious practices and demanding money from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers, MLAs and Members of Parliament. The CDs are believed to be showing her seeking money for party funds either as a birthday gift or from their respective local area development fund.
Mayawati's intentions are clear. "He (Mulayam Singh) had misused the Chief Minister's Discretionary Fund during his tenure. He will have to spend the rest of his life behind bars," she declared at a party rally in Lucknow on April 14. The rally, christened pardafaash (expose) rally, was expected to be Mayawati's reply to the S.P.'s move to release the CDs. She declared to loud applause from party workers: "Mulayam and his supporters had doctored and edited the tapes with the sole intention of defaming me. He will have to face the consequences of twisting facts and cooking up stories and for surreptitiously recording my party's private function."
Setting a new trend, Mayawati also announced an inquiry against Congress(I) leader Motilal Vora for "misuse of discretionary fund" during his tenure as Governor in 1992-93. She has been targeting the Congress(I) ever since Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, played an active role in helping a Dalit in the Amethi constituency, whose house was demolished by members of the Thakur community in November last. Accusing Vora of "financial bungling", she said: "I have ordered a high-level probe into the misuse of the Governor's Discretionary Fund too. Vora doled out as much as Rs.18 crores out of this fund over a span of eight months in gross violation of laid down norms and rules. He too will not be spared."
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on April 17, Mayawati said Mulayam Singh had committed "a serious crime" by spying on her party meeting and making the contents of the CDs public. On her visit to the national capital, she said she was there in connection with party work. "It is not my habit to run to Delhi to meet BJP leaders for no reason. I do so only when it is urgently required," she clarified.
THE political turmoil that has followed Mayawati's actions was only to be expected. S.P. workers have taken to the streets, holding demonstrations, burning effigies of Mayawati, and forcing road-and-rail blockades, demanding the withdrawal of the cases filed against their leaders. The protests turned violent in many parts of the State: three jeeps were set on fire in Gorakhpur; in Bahraich protesters clashed with the police after they were stopped from holding dharnas; in Jhansi, over 60 S.P. workers, including it's the party's national treasurer Chandrapal Singh Yadav, were taken into custody after they tried to block traffic on the main thoroughfares. Party workers disrupted traffic on the national highway in Sant Kabirnagar district for over four hours, leading to the arrest of 100 of them. Reports from Farrukhabad, Mainpuri, Etah and Etawah said S.P. workers burnt effigies of Mayawati and demanded immediate withdrawal of the criminal cases. In Lucknow too dharnas, demonstrations and the burning of effigies continued.
Both Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh dubbed the cases as "politically motivated" and dared Mayawati to arrest them. "I have done no wrong. There was no misuse of the Discretionary Fund during my tenure. The use of this fund was found to be as per rules by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The High Court has given me a clean chit, and even the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, of which the BSP was a part, approved the sanctions," Mulayam Singh said in Delhi.
(Meanwhile, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has stayed the arrest of the S.P. leaders for four weeks until May 16. The court asked State BSP president K.K. Sachan, Principal Secretary (Home) Pradeep Kumar and other respondents to file a counter-affidavit in the meantime. Amar Singh had filed a petition in the court seeking the quashing of the FIRs and a stay on their arrest, stating that the cases were "politically motivated". He expressed fears that those named in the FIRs could be arrested any time under Mayawati's pressure.)
Amar Singh called a press conference after the Lucknow rally and rubbished Mayawati's charges, saying she should order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe to ascertain whether the tapes were doctored. As for the Discretionary Fund, he said: "Virbahadur Singh and Narain Dutt Tiwari had dipped into the Discretionary Fund to help the needy. Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee must have done so in the case of the Prime Minister's Fund." He went on: "Whatever Mulayam Singh Yadav had granted from the fund was placed on record and neither the Allahabad High Court nor the CAG had found any fault. It is also in the Assembly records. He alleged that Mayawati was trying to get him killed. "Mayawati recently told a goon from Aligarh to eliminate me. I have written to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani about it," he said. He declared that his party would take out cycle rallies between April 19 and May 12 in each district and block headquarters of the State to highlight "Mayawati's politics of vendetta and blatant corruption".
The Congress(I), agitated over Mayawati's decision to order an inquiry into the distribution of money by Motilal Vora, hit back demanding a white paper on the misuse of government funds during Mayawati's tenure as Chief Minister, a demand which has been supported by the S.P. "If a white paper is released on the misuse of public money during Mayawati's three terms as Chief Minister, she will be thoroughly exposed before the people," Pradesh Congress(I) chief Arun Kumar Singh Munna told reporters in Lucknow. He said Mayawati's decision to order an inquiry against Vora was "nothing but an act of political vendetta". Motilal Vora questioned the Chief Minister's powers to order an inquiry into the Governor's actions. Besides, he said he had not misused the fund but given the money to needy persons. "That was done at my discretion and nobody can question that," he said in Lucknow.
Significantly, even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has often bent over backwards to keep its coalition with the BSP going, in the fond hope of benefiting from the latter's Dalit vote bank during the Lok Sabha elections, is caught in a dilemma unable to either defend Mayawati's move or oppose it.
Senior BJP leaders, have expressed their disapproval of the move, albeit in a guarded manner. "Despite political differences, leaders have been avoiding negative criticism. The trend has changed now," Kalraj Mishra, senior BJP leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh affairs, said. BJP State president Vinay Katiyar said, "It is difficult for me to decide which side I should take. My only fear is that this new trend should not affect the development of the State." Party spokesman H.N. Dixit said, "U.P. may go the Tamil Nadu way where vendetta has become the order of the political set up." Even Pramod Mahajan, former Union Minister and a top party leader, said: "This does not look like the normal case of the law taking its own course. Political vendetta cannot be justified." He added that the cases also raised the question of how the whole process started in the first place.
ONE of the CDs shows Mayawati making derogatory remarks about Hindu religious practices and rituals. This could hurt the core vote bank of the BJP, but it is not in a position to protest. If it keeps quiet, it will lose politically. The BJP's core vote bank (for example, the Thakurs) is already a frustrated lot with the innumerable compromises the party has had to make to stay in power. The Thakurs find themselves alienated from the BJP because of the party's failure to stand up for the jailed Thakur MLA, Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, who was put behind bars by Mayawati under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) after he led the rebellion by independent MLAs last year.
It has become more than obvious for even the most naive that Mayawati is using her political power against her adversaries. Her message to politicians in Uttar Pradesh is: support me or languish in jail. The case of Akhilesh Kumar Singh, MLA, is a classic example. Akhilesh Kumar Singh, who was elected as a Congress(I) candidate from Rae Bareli, was put behind bars following accusations about his involvement in some murder cases. He was expelled from the Congress(I), but he walked over to the BSP camp, gave a written statement to Mayawati that he supported her government, and is a free man today. BSP MLA Jaiprakash Yadav, who raised the banner of revolt against Mayawati was arrested, but he too is out now, after he apologised to her for having been "misled" into behaving the way he did.
This vindictive style of Mayawati's functioning could cost the BJP dearly but it continues to hope that it will benefit from her Dalit vote bank in the Lok Sabha elections. Hence its reluctance to do anything that could break the alliance. So much so that even her remarks against Hindu religious practices have not been opposed by the BJP. In fact, some obliging BJP leaders have gone a step further and found justification for the support to Mayawati - that in the Hindu religion there were atheists, andso there was nothing new in what Mayawati said about rituals.
The BJP leadership in Delhi, though, has been rattled by her declaration that she would lead an exodus of Dalits to Buddhism if the ills in Hindu society were not rectified. This, if it happens, would make the BJP's experiment of forging a Dalit-upper-caste unity fall flat on its face. Senior BJP leaders, who until now were willing to give the coalition some more time, have started expressing their reservations about the continuance of the alliance. "This alliance is cutting at the very roots of our vote bank. Besides, her conduct so far has not indicated that she will allow the BJP to gain in any way from the alliance at the time of the Lok Sabha elections," one of them said.
Although BJP leaders may not say it in so many words, a stock-taking exercise has begun at the top level in the party about the benefits of the alliance. "Now they are saying the same thing that we had been saying all along," stated a State leader referring to the party high command's apprehension over the alliance. The BJP is worried that Mayawati's repressive tactics would benefit the S.P. in the long run and seriously damage the BJP's prospects in the Lok Sabha elections.