Once more, with hope

Published : Apr 27, 2002 00:00 IST

Amid growing discontent among their rank and file, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party once again decide to share power in Uttar Pradesh, with Mayawati as Chief Minister.

CLOSE to two months after the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh threw up a splintered verdict, the State is finally on the verge of witnessing the formation of a government. But the whole exercise leading up to the event has been marked by political compromises of an extreme kind, and many question marks hang over the political scenario in the State.

When the results of the 402 of the 403 seats that went to the polls were declared in the last week of February, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) along with its allies emerged as the single largest formation, with 146 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won 107 seats, the former ruling party by itself having won 88 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which contested all the seats on its own, had 98 seats. The Congress(I) won 25 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), an ally of the S.P., won two seats.

The BJP is now all set to prop up BSP leader Mayawati as the Chief Minister. What was known to be going on under the covers for some weeks was at last made public by the BJP on April 18. Confirming speculation in the media, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy announced that moves were on to forge an alliance with the BSP to form the government. He also said that the earlier decision of the BJP Parliamentary Board to sit in the Opposition respecting the people's mandate would be reviewed at a meeting "some time next week, in view of later developments". By April 22 or 23 the BJP Parliamentary Board would review its earlier decision and pave the way for the swearing-in of Mayawati as Chief Minister for a third time.

Evidently, the BJP does not know what it means to be "once bitten and twice shy". Despite the fact that it was humbled thrice by the BSP - twice in Uttar Pradesh and once at the Centre when it helped topple the Atal Behari Vajpayee government by voting against it in spite of promises that it would abstain from voting - BJP leaders seem to hope against hope that they would prove "third time lucky" with the BSP and reap the benefits of that party's Dalit vote bank in the next Lok Sabha elections. This appears to be the logic behind the party's decision to join hands with the BSP yet again and to let Mayawati be Chief Minister for a full five-year term in a coalition government. The BSP, in turn, has promised to support the Vajpayee government.

The announcement by the BJP followed a series of meetings BSP leaders Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had with Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Prime Minister Vajpayee in the context of the Gujarat crisis when it seemed that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) would withdraw support to the government. The moment he sensed that the National Democratic Alliance government would need fresh support in Parliament, BSP supremo Kanshi Ram declared in a style typical of him that his party, with 13 MPs, was willing to support the NDA if the BJP supported Mayawati's candidature for the Chief Minister's post.

All senior BJP leaders, including Advani, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP State president Kalraj Mishra, senior leader and the strongest advocate of the alliance Lalji Tandon and former Ministers Om Prakash Singh and Harish Chandra Srivastava attended the April 18 meeting at the Prime Minister's residence, which was held with the specific purpose of discussing the alliance issue, especially because Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh had repeatedly made statements opposing any tie-up with the BSP. Although a formal announcement of the alliance was not made immediately, Krishnamurthy's statement that the Parliamentary Board would meet again to review its decision to sit in the Opposition made it clear that the party had in principle decided to take the plunge yet again.

The final announcement was delayed because, keeping in mind past experience, the BJP wanted details of the arrangement to be worked out in advance. The issue to be decided include the distribution of portfolios, whether or not to create a Deputy Chief Minister's post, who the Speaker would be, and whether the alliance would extend to the national level. However, it is learnt that Mayawati is not keen that the BSP should join the NDA government and she is opposed to the idea of having a Deputy Chief Minister as it might create a parallel power-centre. A common minimum agenda for governance, to be signed by both parties, is also being worked out in order to avoid confusion and confrontation later.

Although the BSP had made its intentions clear over a month earlier when Mayawati resigned her Lok Sabha seat declaring that she would soon head the Uttar Pradesh government, the BJP was not ready to lay its cards on the table. To the dismay of BSP leaders, BJP leaders stuck to their decision to sit in the Opposition. However, the situation changed when the Gujarat crisis posed a threat to the NDA's continuance in power. The first signals that the BJP would eventually go in for an alliance with the BSP came from the Prime Minister during his valedictory address at the BJP's National Executive meeting in Goa. Without naming names, he criticised party leaders (such as Rajnath Singh) who were against the alliance. The Prime Minister quoted a well-publicised statement made by Rajnath Singh - "jeetey koi bhi, sarkaar hum banayenge" (irrespective of who wins the election, we will form the government) - and asked why he was now opposing an alliance with the BSP.

However, even as the finer details of the renewed BJP-BSP cohabitation are being worked out, there are reports that resentment is brewing among a section of Muslim legislators of the BSP. Senior leader Arif Mohammad Khan resigned from the party protesting against the decision. It was followed by threats from two BSP legislators from Rajasthan that they too would resign from the party. It is also learnt that the majority of the 14 Muslim members of the BSP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly plan to abstain from voting for the government when it seeks a confidence vote in the House. This could result in the fall of the government as it happened with the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. The MLAs are worried about their political future, especially in the wake of the anti-minority violence in Gujarat, for their community's reaction to the BSP's alliance with the party that is perceived as the perpetrator of the violence can only be hostile. A prominent Muslim leader of the party said: "The Gujarat riots are not something confined to Gujarat. A message has gone out to Muslims throughout the country. The State administration, run by the BJP, has been seen to be actively encouraging and abetting these riots. We will have no face to show our community."

However, senior BSP leaders deny that there is any resentment. "We are confident of tackling any resentment with the promise of ministerial posts and perks," said a senior BSP leader and Lok Sabha member. He said that no legislator wanted fresh elections and there was no alternative to a BJP-BSP coalition government. "Besides, they are only a few in numbers and cannot split the party as such an action would attract the provisions of the anti-defection law," this BSP leader said.

The BJP too has its share of troubles. Although leaders such as Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra fell in line following the Prime Minister's intervention, resentment is brewing in the party. This was evident when Kalraj Mishra said that the average party worker still supported the idea of a stint for the party in the Opposition. In fact, the grim face of Rajnath Singh, who was standing near Jana Krishnamurthy when the latter made the announcement that the Parliamentary Board would review its decision, seemed to speak volumes about his unhappiness with the decision.

The resentment of the average worker in both the parties is understandable. BJP workers have still not forgotten the days when, despite their party being a partner in the Kalyan Singh government in 1997, Mayawati and Kanshi Ram organised State-wide dharnas and demonstrations against the government, dubbing it "anti-Dalit". At that time, the walls of Lucknow were painted blue with anti-Kalyan Singh and anti-BJP slogans for their "Dalit-Virodhi" mentality. The BSP's actions were provoked by the decision of Kalyan Singh, after assuming charge in the rotational arrangement in September 1997, to issue a government order "to prevent the misuse" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. State BJP leaders also alleged that the Act was used against the upper castes in rural areas during Mayawati's reign. Party leaders claimed that victimisation of upper-caste bureaucrats had become the order of the day. BJP workers have also not forgotten the way Mayawati, unmindful of their sentiments, organised melas to honour social reformers and Dalit leaders such as 'Periyar' E.V. Ramasamy and Shahuji Maharaj, when she was Chief Minister. She also named several districts after Dalit leaders. Even the name of Chitrakoot, associated with Ram and which finds mention in Tulsi Ramayana, was changed to Shahuji Maharaj Nagar. However, the decision was reversed by Kalyan Singh when he became Chief Minister.

On the other hand, BSP Ministers in the Kalyan Singh government expressed their resentment when Kalyan Singh visited the makeshift shrine in Ayodhya at the site of the Babri Masjid for darshan immediately after taking charge. They announced that they would go to the Ayodhya site and offer namaaz, a move that was endorsed by Kanshi Ram. So acrimonious was the relationship between the two parties that they kept insulting and abusing each other publicly. Ironically, all this happened after Vajpayee blessed the alliance with much fanfare and declared that "we are natural allies, the alliance should last". Similar arguments are used by Vajpayee and other votaries of the alliance now and this has created fears among those who suffered the consequences of the alliance in the past. Last time the BJP joined hands with the BSP hoping to cash in on its Dalit vote bank in the following Lok Sabha elections - a reason that is cited even now by the BJP leaders. However, Mayawati denied the BJP precisely that benefit by portraying the latter as anti-Dalit.

It is no consolation for the State BJP leaders that the details of the agreement are being meticulously worked out. After all, the existence of a detailed plan did not prevent Kanshi Ram from having a fit when the time for handing over the chief ministership to the BJP, as had been agreed, arrived last time. He insisted that the Speaker be changed and a person from the BSP be made the Speaker. It was only with great difficulty that the BJP managed to make Kanshi Ram withdraw his demand. However, it is another matter that the BSP had to pay a heavy price for acceding to the BJP's request not to press for a change of Speaker. That experience is bound to make BSP leaders all the more wary this time.

Politics makes strange bed-fellows, but when it is the politics of Uttar Pradesh, the mismatch often takes bizarre proportions. The BSP has so far had phases of cohabitation with all the three major parties in the State - the S.P., the Congress(I) and the BJP. Political expediency, opportunism and marriages of convenience would seem to have become the order of the day in the politically crucial State, and sleeping with the enemy is no longer taboo. So it seems, with the BJP's help, Mayawati is to arrive yet again at 5 Kalidas Marg, the official residence of the Chief Minister, to rule the State for a third term.

These developments have a message for the BJP's allies too. They have been rendered redundant in the entire exercise. The BJP, which fought the elections with them, did not bother to consult them about the alliance. Among the allies, only Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has 14 MLAs and the support of four independents, has objected to the manner in which they were treated. Clinging to power by any means is the name of the game in Uttar Pradesh.

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