The waiting game continues in Uttar Pradesh as the Bharatiya Janata Party is in no mood to prop up a government headed by Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati.
U.P. ki majboori hai, Mayawati zaroori hai (Uttar Pradesh has a compelling need for Mayawati). The slogan that was often heard at Bahujan Samaj Party vice-president Mayawati's election rallies is proving prophetic. Uttar Pradesh is at a crossroads, and the road to the Chief Minister's residence stops at Mayawati's house. With 97 representatives in the 403-member Assembly, she is in a position to dictate terms to any government that will be formed in the State. She has made it abundantly clear that if she cannot become Chief Minister, then no one else will - at least not in the present Assembly.
With the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) out of the race, despite emerging as the single largest party, it was left to the BSP and Bharatiya Janata Party to sort out the tangle. These were the only two parties that together had the numbers required for government formation. A solution did look feasible when the newly elected Assembly was kept in suspended animation and Mayawati resigned her Lok Sabha seat. Mayawati was banking on support from the BJP to form the government. Her resignation from the Lok Sabha in early March was meant to be a signal to the BJP that she was only interested in the chief ministerial post. But the BJP proved to be tougher than she expected. Given its past experiences in government formation with her, the BJP is wary of her. It is keeping her waiting in order to make her climb down from the high pedestal and do business with it on its terms. Mayawati, obviously disappointed with the BJP's attitude, has been avoiding the media, keeping to herself at her bungalow in New Delhi.
Although the State unit of the BJP has opposed extending any kind of support to Mayawati, a section of the central leadership is still weighing the option of joining the BSP in government formation yet again in order to avoid facing another round of elections. This section argues that it would be difficult to get the President's Rule in the State approved in Parliament because the Congress has announced its opposition to such a move. In that case, either President's Rule would be extended for another two months or fresh elections would be called. The central leaders are not hopeful of the party's prospects in the event of a fresh round of Assembly elections. Their argument is that in order to buy time, they should support Mayawati to form the government.
The State BJP president Kalraj Mishra and former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh are openly opposed to any effort to form the government together with Mayawati. They posit that since the people's verdict is against the BJP, the party should sit in the Opposition. This stand has found favour with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani, who maintain that joining hands with the BSP would further alienate the BJP's core vote bank - the upper-caste voters - and the party would pay a heavy price in the next parliamentary elections. "Like in the past she is bound to invoke the Dalit Act. A Dalit resurgence under her leadership would demoralise our grassroots support base. After our already poor showing in the Assembly election, we cannot risk this. We should concentrate on recovering lost ground," a senior BJP leader said. In his opinion, it would do the party a lot more good if it decided to sit in the Opposition.
The BJP leaders also argue that it is better to continue President's Rule for as long as possible. "President's Rule means our direct control over the State which we will lose if we support a government led by Mayawati. We are in no hurry to announce support for her. We can afford to wait because frustration might set in among the elected legislators of other parties and a solution could emerge on its own in due course," a BJP leader said.
Their thinking is that the waiting game would prove costly for her since there is always the risk of defections. "If we continue to wait, we have nothing to lose. Instead, as time passes she will come under pressure and come around to sharing power on our terms," a senior BJP leader said.
According to sources in the BJP, the section that is in favour of helping Mayawati form the government is led by Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. But Joshi is learnt to be advocating extending support from outside. "This will keep us away, to some extent, from her misdeeds," this section argues. But even on this there is difference of opinion within the BJP. A section of pro-Mayawati State leaders, led by senior leader Lalji Tandon, is for joining the government. According to this section, outside support does not make sense as the party will become discredited for propping up the BSP government. On the other hand, "if we are inside the government we can put some checks and balances at least," said a leader belonging to this section.
INTERESTINGLY, all the major political parties seem to be weighing their post-election options in view of the coming Lok Sabha elections. The prospect of early elections to the Lok Sabha has cast a shadow over the process of government formation in U.P. All political calculations are guided by the realisation that the parliamentary elections could be held earlier than expected - in 2003. In this context, the apparently illogical decision of the Congress(I) to oppose President's Rule instead of supporting S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav makes sense. It is this realisation that seems to be guiding the BJP as also the S.P. and their reluctance to form the government by breaking other parties. According to a senior S.P. leader, even if a government is formed by tod-fod (breaking) it will not last long because the compromises involved would be too many and there would also be the anti-incumbency factor to contend with. Hence it is safer to remain outside the power games for a while.
The main reason why the Congress(I) did not support the S.P. is the new-found confidence in Congress(I) circles that the party is on a comeback trail, if its good performance in the Assembly elections in Punjab and Uttaranchal are any indication. In these States it wrested power from the BJP and its allies.
According to Congress(I) leaders, the party is within striking distance of power in New Delhi, and any support to the S.P. at this juncture in U.P. would mean frittering away the minority vote in the State which is coming its way. "We agree we did not do very well in this election. But the Lok Sabha elections are a different matter altogether. We have emerged as the only viable alternative to the BJP at the national level. We are the only national party that has a pan-Indian presence. This factor will prove decisive in the next Lok Sabha elections. We are getting back the support of the minorities too. Why fritter it away for some short-term gains by supporting Mulayam Singh? Supporting him would mean giving away whatever minority support we are regaining," argues a senior Congress(I) leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh.
AS for the S.P., it seems to have reconciled to the fact that if not in U.P., it will gain in strength in the next Lok Sabha. This realisation has taken away some of the urgency the party had displayed earlier to form the government in U.P. "They (the BJP) have decided not to let Mulayam Singh form the government at any cost. Let it be so. Now I will form the government only when I have reduced them to 15 in the Lok Sabha," Mulayam Singh Yadav said, looking rather relaxed. On the basis of the party's performance in the Assembly elections, Mulayam Singh hopes to emerge as a major force in the Lok Sabha. "If we are able to maintain our present performance, we will win at least 40 seats in the Lok Sabha elections (from Uttar Pradesh). The BJP will win 18, the BSP 19 and the Congress three. We are in no hurry to form the government. We have already started our preparation for the next Lok Sabha elections and we will ensure that no government can be formed without our support. Besides, even if we form the government somehow in U.P., it will not last long. It is better for us to stay out of the race and let them (the BJP and the BSP) form and run the government," he said. Mulayam Singh has already begun chalking out the campaign plan for the Lok Sabha elections.
The same realisation seems to be guiding the BJP strategy too. The majority opinion in the party to stay out of power for a while is obviously intended to focus on the next general elections. "We anticipate Lok Sabha elections in 2003. If we join hands with Mayawati, it would be disastrous for us. If at all, we should be supporting her on our terms. We can afford to wait. Even if there is no government in Uttar Pradesh, and the next Lok Sabha elections are held under President's Rule, it suits us fine," a senior BJP leader said.
As per the BJP formula, the BSP should agree to support a BJP government, led by Rajnath Singh and in return it could be given some important portfolios in the State and allowed to share power at the Centre. Senior BJP leaders are of the opinion that if this formula succeeds, it would be the best bet for the BJP. "In this way we not only shall form the government in U.P., but would be able to preserve the leadership of Rajnath Singh. We have promoted his leadership at the State level and we do not want to let him go the Kalyan Singh way," a senior BJP leader said. According to him, if a Mayawati-led government is propped up against the wishes of Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra, a sense of frustration could spread among the cadre, which will not be good for the party in the long run. But Mayawati appears to be in no mood to give up her claim.