Political quandary

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

Intra-party squabbles and the tactics of one-upmanship employed by the alliance partner, Chief Minister Mayawati, leave the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party red in the face.

UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Mayawati's aggressive political style has left the Bharatiya Janata Party totally benumbed in the State. The party has been thrown into disarray in Uttar Pradesh following a series of setbacks, some of them at the hands of its alliance partner. Mayawati has not only reiterated her political supremacy by coming on top in the recent byelections in the State, but has successfully exposed the intra-party fighting in the BJP, much to the embarrassment of senior party leaders in Lucknow and New Delhi.

The success of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the byelections to one Lok Sabha seat and two Assembly seats has reaffirmed Mayawati's supremacy in Uttar Pradesh. It is a measure of her political charisma that the BSP not only managed to retain the Akbarpur Lok Sabha and Jehangirganj Assembly seats, vacated by Mayawati, but also wrested the Bahedi Assembly seat from the Samajwadi Party (S.P.). The victories would seem to have laid to rest all doubts about Muslims deserting the BSP because of the alliance it forged with the BJP to form the State government. In fact, the S.P. campaign had focussed on the "betrayal" of Muslims by the BSP. The byelection results have proved that Muslims, who supported the BSP in substantial measure in the Assembly elections, have not forsaken the party. In contrast, the BJP was left red faced, having lost the only seat it contested, Dibai. Adding to the BJP's embarrassment was the fact that it lost the Dibai seat to former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh's Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP). Kalyan Singh's son Rajvir Singh won the Dibai seat, vacated by his father who preferred to retain his traditional Atrauli seat.

The byelection results were bad news for the S.P. as well, which had changed tack and adopted the slogan of "backward unity" this time. The S.P. had joined hands with the RKP and some other backward class leaders such as R.K. Chaudhary, formerly with the BSP, and Sonelal Patel of the Kurmi outfit Apna Dal.

It was a reflection of her renewed confidence stemming from the byelection results that Mayawati decided to hit the BJP where it hurt most: she reversed the much-publicised "quota within quota" scheme of former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, touted during the Assembly election campaign as a major achievement of the BJP government. Although the Supreme Court had stayed the implementation of the policy, the BJP had claimed it was a revolutionary step, a measure which would deliver the most backward classes and Dalits their long-denied share in the reservation pie.

Incidentally, Mayawati disclosed at a press conference that she scrapped the policy at the behest of Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders themselves. She said that they came to her with the request that the policy be reversed because recruitment of Dalits and backward classes had been affected following the Supreme Court stay on the new policy. Much to the embarrassment of BJP leaders, she disclosed that BJP Minister Om Prakash Singh was the first to approach her with the request. She said that when she told him that it could hurt Rajnath Singh, Om Prakash Singh told her that she should think of the welfare of the entire Dalit and backward class communities. Mayawati disclosed that she had discussed the matter with senior BJP leaders Lalji Tandon and Hukum Singh and that they approved of the reversal of the policy. Hukum Singh was the chairman of the Social Justice Committee on whose recommendation the "quota within quota" formula was announced by Rajnath Singh. Mayawati also disclosed that she had asked all the BJP Ministers to read the draft carefully before approving it and they all agreed to it.

Predictably, the episode showed the BJP in poor light. The party, which had first half-heartedly flirted with the emotive reservation issue in order to gain political mileage, deserted it later because of intra-party squabbles. Intra-party bickering was no secret in the BJP and had cost the party dear in the Assembly elections. However, it had never been exposed in a manner as stark as this. It has been to Mayawati's advantage all the way. While she has gained support further of communities such as Jatavs and Yadavs, whose share in reservation had been drastically curtailed under Rajnath Singh's formula, she has also earned the goodwill of Dalits and backward classes in general as she has projected her decision to scrap the policy as one meant for their welfare.

The fact that she has won support in sections hitherto unknown to be part of her support base becomes obvious from the fact that former BJP Minister Ashok Yadav, who had quit the party on the reservation issue and had challenged it in the Supreme Court, is now all praise for Mayawati. He welcomed her decision and said that he might even withdraw his petition to make it easy for her to implement the earlier reservation policy. Informed sources say that he has been approached by Mayawati to join her government and that he might agree. When contacted, Ashok Yadav admitted that he was indeed approached by Mayawati. He said he would take a decision on the matter after June 17, when the next hearing on his petition was due. However, he said that since the original cause of complaint, the new reservation policy, had been scrapped by Mayawati, his writ had become infructuous.

All this has left the BJP red in the face. It is in a quandary because it can neither support nor oppose Mayawati's move to scrap the new reservation policy. The party's dilemma becomes obvious because so far it has failed to spell out its stand on the issue. There is no official word from the party and the leaders named by Mayawati are avoiding the media. However, at a personal level Rajnath Singh remains committed to the cause of the most backward classes and Dalits. "I am still committed to my policy and will go to any extent to get it implemented," he told Frontline. Although he refused to discuss the issue in detail, saying it was for the party to take an official stand, he said he was still hopeful that Mayawati would get the "quota within quota" policy implemented. He said that the reversal was "only an interim arrangement". He, however, appeared to be upset over the conduct of his colleagues. Sources close to him said he planning to challenge the order in court.

THE BJP appears to be a shambles in Uttar Pradesh, especially since State president Kalraj Mishra resigned in a huff, after delivering an emotional address at a two-day State executive meeting earlier this month. In his address he not only announced his resignation, but declared that he was doing so because of infighting among top leaders in the State party. Although he did not name any names, it was clear that he was referring to Rajnath Singh, Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh when he said that personal egos had superseded party loyalties and personal ambitions were becoming so big as to hurt the party's interests. On this issue too, the party remains in a fix. Mishra's resignation has been pending with the party president Jana Krishnamurthy. Senior BJP leaders disclosed that accepting his resignation would send a wrong signal because it was Mishra who along with Rajnath Singh had first opposed an alliance with the BSP. They had said that the party should sit in the Opposition in deference to the people's mandate. Significantly, even Rajnath Singh's resignation as leader of the BJP Legislature Party is pending with the party president since May 3. He, too, in a gesture of opposition to the alliance, had sent his resignation to the party high command the day Mayawati took oath as Chief Minister. "If we accept these resignations, it would mean we subscribe to their opinion. We can hardly afford to do that at this juncture," said a senior BJP leader. He added that the issue of Mishra's resignation was likely to be settled soon. The senior leader said that as far as Rajnath Singh's resignation was concerned, his spirited defence of the alliance during the debate on the confidence vote has more or less settled the issue.

However, certain senior BJP leaders privately agreed that Mayawati's style of functioning was "contrary to the alliance dharma". They said her confrontationist style, whether it was in the matter of distribution of portfolios, mass transfer of officials, or taking major policy decisions, did not augur well. "At the moment we are in a fix. We cannot even oppose her but we cannot allow this to go on either," said a senior BJP leader. "We had warned the leaders in Delhi before the alliance was announced. They did not listen to us. Now they will have to take note of these things and do something before it is too late," said a senior State BJP leader. He said the presumption that an alliance with the BSP would get the BJP some Dalit votes was proved wrong in the recent byelections. "It was obvious that the Dalit vote was not transferred to us. The alliance has been of no help to us. It seems to be helping only Mayawati," the leader said. The fact that this time the BJP has agreed to support her as Chief Minister for a full five-year term makes things even more difficult for the party. "There is no way we can check her by remaining within the government," said a senior leader.

BJP leaders who were advocating the alliance arrangement had hoped that by joining hands with the BSP, their party will have the benefit of its vast Dalit vote bank. But this hope has been belied. Moreover, Mayawati has made it clear that for the next Lok Sabha elections the alliance with the BJP would be confined to Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati's clarification has dealt a blow to the BJP's hope of riding piggyback on the BSP to garner Dalit votes elsewhere in the country. In fact, even in Uttar Pradesh Mayawati has ensured that the BSP's vote bank remains loyal to it. For the BJP, the alliance with the BSP has been a losing proposition right from the beginning. The cadres are demoralised, the party is a shambles and intra-party bickering is exposed as never before. The party appears to be in a state of shock, unable even to react to what is going on. The only gain, if one can call it that, has been the BSP's support for the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Alliance.

In contrast, for Mayawati, things could not have been better. She has emerged stronger after the formation of the alliance and she has won over the bureaucracy too by not displaying any caste bias in the transfer of officials. Indian Police Service officers in the State have turned her staunch supporters because for the first time she has appointed an IPS officer as the Chief Minister's secretary. Muslims too have seemingly come out in support of her more than before, and her main rival, the S.P., seems to be losing ground.

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