Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati blunts Opposition criticism and wins the vote of confidence in style, but there has been little initiative as yet on the administrative front.
UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Mayawati has not only established her supremacy in the government within two weeks of assuming office, but further consolidated her position in the Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition by adding six more Members of the Legislative Assembly to her list of supporters. On May 17, she won the trial of strength in the Assembly by 37 votes, with 217 members voting in favour of the motion of confidence moved by the government and 180 voting against. There had been no doubt that she would win the vote; what came as a surprise was the margin of victory. The list she submitted to Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri on April 29 while staking her claim to form the government had only 211 names.
The voting, which took place after a seven-hour-long debate, was taken up thrice: by voice vote, by the raising of hands, and finally, on the Opposition's insistence, by a lobby division. Interestingly, in the show of hands the count showed 216 supporters, but the number went up in the lobby division. The verdict perhaps is ample proof that the MLAs, cutting across party lines, do not want another round of Assembly elections in the State anytime soon.
Mayawati's breezy victory also belied speculation in certain quarters that the BSP's 14 Muslim MLAs would desert her at the time of voting in view of her bold liaison with the BJP which is accused of fanning communal violence in Gujarat.
The additional support for Mayawati came from the Janata Dal (U) and the Loktantrik Congress which have two members each, one MLA belonging to the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan, and one independent. Interestingly, the LJP walked out of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre in protest against the Gujarat incidents, but its MLA's support to the BSP-BJP coalition government has not invited any penal action from Paswan.
During the debate preceding the confidence vote, Mayawati proved yet again that she was in total control. She summarily rejected the BJP's demand for a common minimum programme, saying that her government's only programme was "pro-people, pro-Dalit" and that this was the common minimum programme of both the BJP and BSP. Senior BJP leaders, including State president Kalraj Mishra, had indicated during the government formation process in early May that the agenda for governance would be chalked out clearly as had been done in the case of the NDA government. Mayawati has now made it clear that she will not be bound by a common minimum programme.
Seeking to allay the fears of her Muslim supporters, she reiterated that despite running the government with the BJP's support she would guarantee the safety of the lives and religious places of Muslims, as she had done during her previous stint in power. In order to blunt the Opposition attack, she also offered an explanation for partnering with the BJP yet again. In her clarification, which seemed to be directed more at the Muslim electorate, she said she formed the government along with the BJP only after the single largest party, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), had failed to muster the required majority. She directed her ire at S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav whom she accused of conniving with the BJP in the past to further his own political interests. "When he formed the government with the BJP in the past it was not a communal party, but when I join hands with the BJP it turns into a communal party," she said. Mayawati alleged that Mulayam Singh was misleading the Muslim MLAs by telling them that they were not secure as a BJP-supported government would mete out the same treatment to them as was being done in Gujarat.
Mayawati is also making efforts to prove that she is politically more mature now than in the past and that the coalition would not collapse as in the past. "The government will last not only its full five-year term, but even beyond that. We will contest the Lok Sabha elections together," she declared, much to the relief of many BJP leaders. She also steered clear of controversial issues such as the move to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the Gujarat riots. On the Ram temple issue, she said that it could only be solved either through dialogue or by the courts and that her government would help resolve it in the best possible manner. On the question of reviving the Ayodhya demolition-related cases against Union Ministers L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, she remained non-committal. "I will look into the legal aspects first and then take a decision," she said when she was asked to clarify her stand on the former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, who now heads the Rashtriya Kranti Party. On Gujarat, she merely repeated her earlier stand that there should be an inquiry into the Godhra incident and what happened subsequently only then should guilt be apportioned.
SIGNIFICANTLY, the biggest surprise of the day came from the former BJP Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, who had opposed the alliance and was sulking after Mayawati launched a frontal attack on his regime at her first press conference as Chief Minister. His defence of the alliance was even stronger than that put up by Mayawati. He described it as the "ultimate symbol of nationalist and Dalit awakening". However, the story doing the rounds in BJP circles is that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee rung up Rajnath Singh a couple of days before the trust vote and firmly asked him to ensure that the government won the vote respectably enough, and that there were no dissenting voices coming from the BJP. Raja Chandramani Pandey, the BJP MLA from Bhinga, who had been threatening to vote against the government along with some others, clammed up after the reported telephonic instruction.
What added further to Mayawati's convincing victory was the lacklustre attack by the Opposition parties. Both the Congress and the S.P. failed to nail her on any issue except on the fact that she had joined hands unsuccessfully with the BJP twice in the past. The Opposition had nothing to say other than describing the alliance as "opportunistic and immoral". To this, Mayawati had more than ample reply. She drove home the point that she did not jump to form the government at the first opportunity but waited long enough for the S.P. to form the government. Only when the S.P. failed to muster enough strength and the threat of fresh elections loomed large, did she take this step "in the interest of the people". She admitted that her alliance with the BJP had proved unsuccessful in the past but pointed out that in the present context there was no other option. "The poor economic health of the State could not have borne yet another expensive election. It was only to spare the people the financial burden of a fresh round of elections that I decided to take support from the BJP," she remarked, rendering the Opposition attack ineffective.
Mayawati was sworn in on May 3 and was asked by the Governor to prove her majority within three weeks. In the House with an effective strength of 399, she needed the support of at least 200 MLAs. In the two weeks that she has been in power, she has shown little sign of governance, though. Her main preoccupation has been mass transfer of officials, so much so that some officers have been transferred twice or even thrice in the short period. But political observers agree that this time she has displayed no pronounced caste bias and that those with a tainted image have been by and large kept at bay. She has, on the other hand, earned appreciation from the strong Indian Police Service lobby that has been demanding a place for IPS officers in the Secretariat for the past many years. She has appointed an IPS officer, Kashmir Singh, as her Secretary. Although Kashmir Singh's appointment has more to do with his personal loyalty to Mayawati, the move has earned her the goodwill of IPS officers.
WHILE the Chief Minister busies herself with bureaucrats' reshuffle, the State continues to remain in darkness faced with an unprecedented power crisis. Most parts of the State, barring Saharanpur, Mayawati's constituency, and Badalpur, her native village near Ghaziabad, have been experiencing power cuts for up to 12 hours a day. The power crisis is basically the result of the previous government's obstinate refusal to hike the power rates for farmers, with the result that the electricity facility has gone bankrupt, unable to pay its dues to the National Thermal Power Corporation, which is a major supplier to Uttar Pradesh. It is quite a pointer of things to come that the government has so far not taken any initiative to ease the situation.
Mayawati has already made her agenda clear by visiting her ambitious project, the Ambedkar Park in Lucknow. This project, which is spread across 26 acres (10.4 hectares) of lush green land in a prime locality, has used up over Rs.100 crores since Mayawati's first tenure and is expected to cost an equal amount before completion. Speedy completion of the park, the Chief Minister declared, was her top priority.
For those expecting a semblance of governance with the arrival of a "popular government" it seems only populism and more populism lies ahead. Real problems, such as the power shortage, poor industrial development and a doddering economy, it appears, can wait.