The induction of 56 Ministers has not meant the end of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's troubles: some of the new choices have left the BJP and its allies seething.
THE Uttar Pradesh government recently announced an ambitious project: a university dedicated to the Buddha, to be set up at an estimated cost of Rs.300 crores in the Greater Noida area of Gautam Buddha Nagar district. The foundation was to be laid on October 14, the day on which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had embraced Buddhism. The government announced that the Rs.400-crore Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, linking the area to the national capital, would also be dedicated to the public that day. The day arrived, and Chief Minister Mayawati laid the foundation stone of the university and dedicated the still-under-construction expressway to the people of the State by unveiling two stone slabs not at the respective sites but at the Ambedkar Udyan complex in Lucknow. The slabs will be taken to Gautam Buddha Nagar and mounted at the two sites.
The reason for this exercise is equally bizarre. According to official sources, whichever Chief Minister has visited the Noida-Greater Noida area for official functions has lost the chair soon after, never to regain it. Mulayam Singh Yadav lost his Chief Ministership shortly after a visit to the area in 1995 and earlier it was N.D. Tiwari who met the same fate. Old-timers in the State recall instances of Chief Ministers before Tiwari who lost their post in similar circumstances. No wonder Mayawati is cautious. During her earlier stint, too, she had created the Gautam Buddha Nagar district by laying the foundation stone in Lucknow. The stone was later placed at an appropriate place at the district headquarters.
Mayawati's fears about survival may not be entirely misplaced despite the fact that she has cleared the biggest hurdle: the Babri Masjid demolition conspiracy case. By not issuing a fresh notification in the case against Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Ministers M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharati, she has allowed them to go scot-free. The latest Ministry expansion she inducted 56 more Ministers to take its strength to 80 was intended to provide stability to her government. The BJP and its allies apparently got adequate representation, but the inclusion of dubious characters and the exclusion of senior erstwhile Ministers have caused heartburning in the BJP. Mayawati is aware of this and it may have prompted her decision not to visit Noida, as a measure of extreme caution.
The expansion of the Ministry was long overdue. It had been postponed at least three times in the last few months, giving the BJP some anxious moments. Finally, when it came through, it was expected that all would be well now. However, the BJP has serious objections to some of the inductions and to the fact that some of its former senior Ministers were ignored in the exercise. Besides, the exclusion of all independent MLAs 12 of them support the government has angered the BJP because some of them with a dicey reputation, including Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya from Kunda, are known to be close to former Chief Minister Rajnath Singh.
"Yes, there is resentment within the party over our senior MLAs being left out. We are discussing the issue within the party and will take it up with the Chief Minister at the appropriate time. There will have to be another expansion in a couple of months," said a senior central BJP leader. Mayawati ruled out another expansion in the immediate future but left room for manoeuvring by saying that more BJP members could be inducted later. Among the senior MLAs who have been left out are former Ministers Harish Chandra Srivastava, Narendra Singh Gaur and Ganga Bhakt Singh. All of them have held senior positions in BJP governments and are perceived to be close to Rajnath Singh. What the BJP finds specifically objectionable is the exclusion of all those who are known to be close to Rajnath Singh and the induction of those whom he had either dismissed from his Ministry or targeted for action.
Among them is Amar Mani Tripathi, formerly of the Loktantrik Congress Party, who was Minister of State for Institutional Finance in the Rajnath Singh government. Tripathi was dismissed from the Council of Ministers on December 12 last year after his involvement in a kidnapping and extortion case in eastern U.P. came to light. A special task force set up by Rajnath Singh to track down the kidnappers of Rahul Madesia, the 15-year-old son of a leading businessman in Basti, traced them to a bungalow in Lucknow. The arrested kidnappers said Tripathi had provided them the bungalow. He was dismissed immediately and arrested a week later. He subsequently joined the Bahujan Samaj Party and won the election. He has been made a Minister of State with a nondescript portfolio, but the very fact of his inclusion in the Ministry is unacceptable to the BJP.
It is another matter that Tripathi's antecedents were no secret when he joined the BJP-led coalition on October 20, 1997. He, along with 18 others led by Naresh Agrawal, had broken away from the Congress(I) to form the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), which propped up the Kalyan Singh government after the BSP withdrew support to it. Tripathi, a Category A history-sheeter then, had 33 criminal cases pending against him, including five relating to murder, and was listed in police records as a `member of Hari Shankar Tiwari's gang'. Hari Shankar Tiwari, yet another member of the Rajnath Singh Ministry and belonging to the UPLC, wields much clout in eastern U.P. and has a number of criminal cases pending against him. He created a sensation in the early 1980s by winning an Assembly election while in jail. In Rajnath Singh's `cleanliness drive', Tiwari was also a target, but the task could not be completed.
"The presence of people like him (Amar Mani Tripathi) is a matter of great concern and we need to sort it out," said a senior BJP leader. Tripathi's dismissal from the Rajnath Singh government was hailed at that time by all the senior BJP leaders as an example of how the BJP was striving to provide a "bhay mukt" (fear-free) society.
Hari Shankar Tiwari has been inducted into the government as a Cabinet Minister and given the portfolio of Stamp and Registration. While in Rajnath Singh's government, Tiwari was accused of fraud, besides other things. Two companies promoted by Tiwari Gangotri Associates, headed by his son, and Ganesh Shankar Pandey & Co., headed by his nephew who is a member of the Legislative Council allegedly furnished fake demand drafts for Rs.90 lakhs to win a Rs.25-crore contract for rural road construction in Madhya Pradesh. After it was found that the drafts were fake, the contract was cancelled and the matter referred to the Economic Offences Wing of the Madhya Pradesh government. The two companies were also found to have submitted fake drafts to win some contracts of the Chhattisgarh government. Rajnath Singh was waiting for the Madhya Pradesh government's report before taking action in this case when the elections were announced and all was forgotten.
What the BJP finds especially objectionable is the fact that people with dubious credentials have been given the Cabinet rank, while those who held important portfolios in previous BJP governments have been ignored. In the matter of distribution of portfolios, too, there is discontent. Four-time MLA from Ghosi in eastern U.P., Fagoo Chauhan, who held important portfolios earlier, is unhappy at being given Family Welfare and has refused to take charge. Also sulking are Om Prakash Singh, who has been divested of the dozen-odd portfolios he had and is left with Irrigation, and Ameeta Singh Modi, who is unhappy with Technical Education. While Lalloo Singh, a dissatisfied BJP MLA from Ayodhya, refused to take oath as a Minister of State, the senior BJP MLA from Hardoi, Ganga Bhakt Singh, threatened to resign in protest against his exclusion. Independent members, represented by Raghuraj Pratap Singh, also threatened to reconsider their support to the Mayawati-led BSP-BJP coalition in the 403-member Assembly.
Even the allies are known to be unhappy. The 14-member Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh is unhappy because its most senior leader, Samar Pal Singh, has been ignored. BJP leaders said Ajit Singh had discussed the issue with them in Delhi and that they would take it up with Mayawati.
Among the 56 Ministers sworn in, as many as 44 are new faces, which was the main reason for the brewing resentment in the BJP and its allies. "We are not going to take it lying down," said a BJP MLA who held a senior position in the Rajnath Singh government. Those who have been inducted were openly complaining that seniority had been ignored in the allocation of portfolios.
While Mayawati has so far maintained a straight face, even justifying the induction of persons with criminal records (she said they had changed), she obviously is worried.