The great game

Print edition : May 01, 2002

If the BSP-BJP government does not endure, the BJP runs the risk of losing its hold over its upper-caste vote bank and the BSP may see its Muslim voters consolidating behind the Samajwadi Party.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party has embarked on yet another political journey along with Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, propping her up as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for the third time. Evidently, the BJP has done this in the belief that her company would bring it electoral benefits in the next Lok Sabha elections. Besides, the BJP hopes that the tie-up with Mayawati will counterbalance attempts by any of its allies to rock the boat that is the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, in the wake of Gujarat. The BSP has announced that in exchange for the BJP's support in Uttar Pradesh, it will support the NDA government from the outside.

Mayawati with Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri after she was sworn in Chief Minister on May 3.-SUBIR ROY

The fact that it is going to be a tumultuous journey for the BJP, as on the past two occasions, was evident at the very outset. The pointers were visible in the composition of Mayawati's Ministry, in her announcements immediately after taking oath on May 3, and also in the changes she made in the top levels of the bureaucracy even before taking oath. The 24-member Council of Ministers, which includes four Ministers of State, is weighted in favour of her party. Eleven of the Cabinet Ministers are from the BSP, seven from the BJP and two from Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal. There are two Ministers of State each from the BJP and BSP. None of the other allies - the Janata Dal(U), the Uttar Pradesh Lok Tantrik Congress, the Samata Party and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party - has found a berth in the Ministry.

The composition of the Ministry came as a disappointment to senior BJP leaders, who had hoped that there would be an equal number of berths in the Ministry for the major parties. They also could not stomach the fact that the BJP had been relegated to the sidelines in the government formation process.

It was a BSP show all the way. The blazing blue of the party and its elephant symbol and huge cutouts of Mayawati loomed over every corner of Lucknow city. Even the oath-taking venue - the sprawling grounds of the La Martinier School - was bathed in the BSP's blue. The saffron of the BJP was conspicuous by its absence. The gathering at the venue mostly comprised of BSP workers, and they cheered lustily for "Behen Kumari Mayawati" throughout. There were no slogans for the BJP. Even senior BJP leaders who attended the ceremony appeared to wonder where the BJP was in the government. And they tried to look for justifications. "It is natural that the party from which the Chief Minister comes would exhibit more enthusiasm," said former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh.

Mayawati let it be known at her very first press conference after taking oath that it was going to be a BSP show. She made no effort to conceal her agenda: attack the previous Rajnath Singh government and make people realise that it is the BSP and not the BJP that is dictating terms. By rejecting its demand for the post of Deputy Chief Minister, she made it known to the BJP that it was the junior partner. She emphasised the point again after taking the oath, by launching a frontal attack on the incompetence of the Rajnath Singh government. It was obvious that she had come prepared for the attack. The moment she arrived at the press conference she started reading from a prepared text, and needed no prodding from the media to launch her attack. Without naming anyone she denounced the Rajnath Singh government for the State's present financial troubles, corruption and poor law and order situation.

"Based on newspaper reports as well as my own information, I know the financial situation of Uttar Pradesh is pitiable. The State has gone bankrupt. During the whole of 2001-2002 the economy was run with overdrafts from the Reserve Bank of India. This year alone the Sate accumulated a financial burden of Rs.11,000 crores. Losses were to the tune of Rs.400 crores every month. To top it all, 900 new schemes were announced without taking into account the poor financial position of the State," she said. She declared that all the new schemes would be reviewed and only those that were absolutely in the public interest would be implemented, that too the State's financial health permitting. She made no effort to conceal her pro-Dalit agenda. "Only schemes that are in the interest of Dalits and other downtrodden sections of people would be carried forward," she declared.

On the law and order front, too, she did not spare Rajnath Singh. She said the law and order situation had plunged to new lows in the State and criminals were roaming around freely. "In my regime, the right place for these criminals would not be the streets of Lucknow, but in jails," she declared. She cautioned bureaucrats that now that she was the Chief Minister they had better be warned. "I am aware that the State administration is infested with corrupt officers. This will not be allowed anymore and anyone found to be indulging in corrupt practices would be punished," she said. Mocking the previous government's ineffectiveness in controlling corruption, she said the moment it was known that she was going to become Chief Minister, corrupt officers had either gone out of the State on deputation or proceeded on long leave.

At the swearing-in ceremony, some of the new Ministers.-SUBIR ROY

For the BJP, all this is a poignant reminder of her stints in 1995 and 1997, when, despite being the Chief Minister with its help, she attacked the then BJP leader Kalyan Singh in public. In 1997, after she stepped down as part of the six-monthly rotational arrangement of the chief ministership, she did not allow Kalyan Singh to function even for a month. As soon as he took charge she launched a campaign against him, accusing him of being anti-Dalit.

As the details of her press conference became known, BJP circles plunged further into gloom. At Rajnath Singh's residence, which is next door to the Chief Minister's official residence, supporters sported long faces. Rajnath Singh himself looked crestfallen. He refused to comment on what Mayawati had said about his tenure, except to say that it was a "serious matter" and the "party should take note of it". As for the threat to review his decisions, he said she was the Chief Minister and could do as she deemed fit.

Rajnath Singh sent in his resignation from the post of BJP legislature party leader to party president Jana Krishnamurthy and was asked to continue until alternative arrangements were made. Senior BJP leaders close to Rajnath Singh said he was aware that troubled days lay ahead and wanted to dissociate himself from the goings-on in the State.

Rajnath Singh was all along opposed to any tie-up with the BSP, but senior BJP leaders realised that in the given circumstances, there was no alternative. "We realise that we may not reap any long-term political advantage from this alliance. But the aim was not long-term, but a very short-term one: to save the Vajpayee government in Delhi on the eve of the vote in the Lok Sabha on Gujarat," they said. Another short-term gain that the BJP was looking for was to have its own man as the next President. The BJP believes that with the BSP on its side it will be able to have a bigger say in the choice of the President even if parties such as the Telugu Desam Party do not support it.

BJP leaders in Lucknow agreed that nobody seriously believed that Mayawati would contest the next Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP. "Just wait and see. Her political ambition will not allow her to leave even a single seat for the BJP. She will dump us when the Lok Sabha elections approach," said a senior BJP leader, who doubted whether the alliance would continue even that long. Mayawati, however, has ultimately proved right the slogan: "U.P. ki majboori hai, Mayawati jaroori hai" (Mayawati is the compulsive need for U.P.). The slogan, which was raised with abandon at the oath-taking ceremony, has been refined by the BJP leaders opposed to the alliance as "BJP ki majboori hai, Mayawati jaroori hai" (BJP has a compulsive need for Mayawati).

Senior BJP leader and Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and BSP president Kanshi Ram.-SUBIR ROY

Mayawati's arrival as Chief Minister has other ominous portents too. The game of political vendetta has begun. The State Guest House incident of June 2, 1995, has been revived and summons

issued to the accused, including Mulayam Singh Yadav and some others from his party besides some top bureaucrats. (Mayawati was mobbed by Mulayam Singh's supporters at the State Guest House in Lucknow after she withdrew support to his government. She had to remain locked in for hours before the BJP airlifted her to the Raj Bhavan, where she was administered the oath of office as Chief Minister in the dead of night by Governor Motilal Vora.)

It is obvious that a lot of witch-hunting is going to take place. The fact that the entire Opposition boycotted her oath-taking, made it clear that politically things are going to be on the boil. The Samajwadi Party, the BSP's main rival, observed the day as Dhikkar Diwas (condemnation day).

Another pointer to the political battles lying ahead was Congress president Sonia Gandhi's visit to her constituency, Amethi, on the day Mayawati assumed office. Even as Mayawati was taking the oath, Sonia Gandhi was rubbishing the coalition government as an opportunistic alliance that was doomed to fail sooner rather than later.

Running a coalition is a challenge. In Mayawati's case, she is aware that Muslims, who voted for her overwhelmingly, have not taken kindly to the tie-up with the BJP and that she will have to go the extra mile to prove her secular credentials. At the press conference she devoted a considerable amount of time to reassure Muslims that despite it being a BJP-supported government, their lives, property and religious places would be protected at all cost.

She realises that the Samajwadi Party will seek to paint her as communal and lure Muslim voters away from her. At the press conference she attacked Mulayam Singh Yadav for "pretending" to be secular. "My Muslim MLAs told me that if Mulayam Singh Yadav was really secular he would have extended support to the BSP-led government. But he is not, he only pretends to be a messiah of Muslims while doing nothing for their development. It was my government that announced scholarships for poor Muslim students and reservation of jobs for Muslims," she said. She also clarified that she did not seek to form the government in a hurry. "We waited enough for Mulayam Singh Yadav to furnish proof of his majority support, which he never had in any case. Only when he failed we tried to form the government in order to save the people from further economic hardships," she said. She sought to justify her alliance with the BJP by saying that the State's economy would not have permitted another round of elections. "If elections had been held again, people would have suffered additional financial burden and I did not want the people to suffer," she said, to make it appear that the alliance was in the larger public interest and not aimed at short-term political gains.

Political observers agree that balancing her secular credentials while running the government with BJP support will be Mayawati's biggest challenge. She is being watched by her Muslim constituency, which has given her one last chance, and if she fails it now she may have lost it forever. Mayawati would have to do something concrete to prove her minority-friendly credentials such as initiating action against Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, and Union Ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati in the Babri Masjid demolition case by issuing a fresh notification so that they could be tried by the court for Central Bureau of Investigation-instituted cases. Political observers say she would also have to be seen to be dealing with the Sangh Parivar outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal with an iron hand if they persisted with their temple agenda.

There are volatile days ahead in Uttar Pradesh. It is a test of survival for the BJP and a test of its pro-minority credentials for the BSP. The BJP would have to ensure that its upper-caste vote bank does not move away from it. The BSP, which owes its good performance in the Assembly elections to Muslim support, will have to ensure that Muslims continue to trust it. Significantly, so far none of the prominent Muslim organisations have commented on the alliance. There were stray voices opposing it, but none that matters politically.

If these two parties fail, it would be Advantage Congress and Samajwadi Party in the long term. The upper castes would start eyeing the Congress as an alternative to the BJP and Muslims, who are still faithful to the Samajwadi Party to a large extent, would further get consolidated in favour of Mulayam Singh Yadav. A lot of political jugglery will be on display in Uttar Pradesh as both the BJP and the BSP perform the tightrope walk.

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