Coalition troubles

Print edition : November 22, 2002

The revolt within the BJP legislature party and the support to the rebels from independent legislators may not bring down the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in view of the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Congress(I).

Chief Minister Mayawati addressing BSP workers at the party office in Lucknow on October 31.-

The discontent among Bharatiya Janata Party and independent legislators following the Cabinet expansion in Uttar Pradesh is threatening the very survival of the Mayawati government. Its woes are likely to be compounded by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which is waiting to strike at the opportune moment. With a "friendly" Governor, and a protective Speaker on its side and the Congress(I) remaining indifferent and unenthusiastic, the government may not fall immediately. But it will continue to be on tenterhooks as the events in Lucknow have left it with only a technical majority.

On October 31, 12 dissident BJP MLAs, mostly veteran Sangh Parivar activists, rebuffed efforts for a patch-up made by senior BJP leaders and met Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri to inform him that they "had lost confidence" in the Mayawati-led government. They wanted a special session of the Assembly convened in order to test the government's strength. However, the dissidents, led by suspended BJP MLA Ganga Bhakt Singh, stopped short of withdrawing their support to the government. This was to circumvent the penal clauses of the anti-defection law since their total strength fell short of the 30-member mark required to effect a legally valid split.

On November 1, S.P. general secretary Amar Singh, accompanied by over 165 legislators, including 142 of his own party, met the Governor and presented him with a list of 204 MLAs who he claimed would support a government led by S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav. The list included the names of 37 BJP MLAs but not those of the 25 Congress(I) members. Amar Singh wanted the Governor to dismiss the Mayawati government since "it had lost its majority" and invite Mulayam Singh Yadav to form the government. The Governor, however, was "unconvinced'' and said that "he would look into the matter''. The BJP described the list as "fake".

(From left) Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and S.P. leader Amar Singh address the media after a meeting with Congress (I) president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi.-V. SUDERSHAN

The S.P. appears to have made its bid for power in haste. The names of the 37 BJP MLAs said to be ready to support Mulayam Singh Yadav were submitted without any material evidence of their support. Only 12 BJP MLAs had come out in support of Mulayam Singh. Besides, the Congress(I) continues to be indifferent to the S.P.'s "topple Mayawati mission''. Congress(I) spokesman Anand Sharma clarified that until the government fell, or was asked to prove its majority on the floor of the House, the Congress(I) would have nothing to do with the political drama. "We do not want to be seen indulging in a toppling game or horse-trading,'' he said. But if the government was asked to prove its majority, the Congress(I), he said, would vote in favour of "secular forces". Interestingly, Mulayam Singh Yadav was conspicuous by his absence at the meeting with the Governor. Instead of leading the MLAs, he was addressing a workers' conference in Patna. (In Bihar, the party has a negligible presence.) This makes one wonder whether the show of strength in Lucknow was tactic aimed at pressuring dissident BJP MLAs and encouraging some more of them to revolt.

The dissidents' move came as a jolt to the party's central leadership, which had deputed leaders including general secretary Rajnath Singh and former party president Kushabhau Thakre to defuse the crisis. Even as Thakre was on his damage-control mission, the dissidents marched to the Raj Bhavan and declared their defiance. Meanwhile Mulayam Singh Yadav stepped up efforts to muster the required majority in case he was called upon to form the government. He met Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to seek her support to rid the State of the "anti-people" and "anti-minority" government. However, the response was not that encouraging. Now Mulayam Singh can only hope that the Governor summons a special session of the Assembly as demanded by the dissidents so that the Mayawati government can be voted out. But that possibility appears to be far-fetched at the moment, because the dissidents have not spoken about withdrawing support to Mayawati. Further, on October 31, a communiqu issued from the Raj Bhavan stated that the Governor would work according to the "norms of the Constitution". This came as a relief to the beleaguered government, for the dissidents cannot withdraw support to the government without inviting automatic disqualification under the anti-defection law. In case they are disqualified, the number required for a majority in the House will come down and the government will survive.

The dissidence among the BJP MLAs had been simmering for quite some time. Matters came to a head when in a tough action, the party's central leadership suspended legislator Kovid Kumar Singh for "anti-party" activities. The suspension was announced in Lucknow by State party president Vinay Katiyar and BJP Legislature Party leader Lalji Tandon. The dissidents are demanding the removal of the two leaders, besides the revocation of the suspension of legislators Ganga Bhakt Singh, who was the first to take up cudgels against the leadership, and Ramasheesh Rai, as preconditions for talks with the central leadership.

Independent legislators submit a letter to Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri informing him of their decision to withdraw support to the Mayawati government.-

Kovid Kumar, the third dissident to be suspended from the party, met the Governor along with 11 other BJP legislators and eight independents and presented a memorandum. The legislators told the Governor that the Mayawati Ministry had been reduced to a minority and that it should be asked to prove its majority on the floor of the House. The eight independent MLAs who withdrew support to the government after being denied ministerial berths were Durga Prasad Misra, Jitendra Jaiswal, Ram Nath Saroj, Kaushal Kishore, Raja Ram Pandey, Dhananjay Singh, R.K. Chaudhary and Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya. Kovid Kumar claimed that the government's strength in the 403-member House had come down to 198. He claimed the support of 35 BJP MLAs who, he said, would meet the Governor to intimate their loss of confidence in the government. Meanwhile, Ganga Bhakt Singh and Ramasheesh Rai floated the `BJP Bachao Committee' (Save BJP Committee).

Given the circumstances, Shastri's role has become crucial, especially in view of his known position that there was no need to hold a special session of the Assembly to test the government's strength. The BJP leadership keeps claiming that there is no threat to the government. According to Vinay Katiyar, the 12 MLAs would not be able to topple the government. But the fact that 12 MLAs chose to revolt despite all efforts by the party's top leadership bodes ill for the Mayawati government.

Mayawati, in partnership with the BJP, has twice held office as Chief Minister, but on both occasions the coalitions were short-lived. This time, rebellion surfaced in the form of the 12 BJP MLAs' and eight independents' objection to Mayawati's "authoritarian" style. They were upset at the denial of ministerial berths in the latest Cabinet expansion and Mayawati's announcement that there would be no more expansions and that even if there were, the independents would not be inducted. BJP MLAs resented at being given relatively junior positions in the government. They started voicing their displeasure with the functioning of the government, and then criminal cases that had been pending against several of them were reopened and first information reports lodged, their houses raided and their relatives threatened.

On October 30, a six-member delegation of dissidents, led by Ganga Bhakt Singh met the Governor and informed him about criminal cases being framed against them and other intimidating tactics being resorted to. After the meeting, Bhakt said: "We told the Governor that raids were being conducted at the houses of legislators, false criminal cases were being registered, and the police were generally harassing supporters of those legislators who had made their displeasure with the government public. We sought his intervention in the matter and he has assured us that he will take up the matter with the State government. We have also warned that if these repressive measures do not stop, we will be forced to take to the streets." He said that it was because of these repressive measures that the legislators aired their grievances in public. He expressed full support to the decision by the independents to withdraw support to the government. Independent legislator Raja Bhaiyya and Samata Party MLA Rajaram Pandey, along with six others, had met the Governor to announce their decision to withdraw support. This group included Ramasheesh Rai, Bharat Tripathi (both BJP MLCs) and Kovid Kumar (BJP MLA).

Dissident BJP legislators at a meeting in Lucknow on October 18, following the Cabinet expansion.-

Aware that a crisis was looming, Mayawati explained the situation to her supporters at a programme in Akbarpur, her Lok Sabha constituency. She is also aware of the BJP's keenness to continue the alliance until the Lok Sabha elections and exhorted her supporters to be ready for them. Confident that there was no imminent danger to her government, she addressed programmes spanning over four hours, unveiled a number of foundation stones, announced new projects for the district, addressed a meeting of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers and claimed at a press conference that there was no threat to her government.

In the final analysis, what has rescued the government is the Congress(I)'s apparent lack of enthusiasm for a joint action with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Despite appeals by S.P. leaders, the Congress (I) has maintained a studied silence. On October 27, Mulayam Singh, along with Communist Party of India(Marxist) leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, met Sonia Gandhi. Although Sonia Gandhi heard them out patiently and in a "cordial atmosphere," she has not responded to the appeal. She told them that she would consult senior Congress(I) leaders, but no consultations have taken place. Senior Congress(I) leaders are of the view that it is not in the interest of the party to support Mulayam at a time when the Congress(I) is on a comeback trail in U.P. "If we support the S.P., we would be demoralising our own workers who came out in large numbers and showed tremendous enthusiasm during Sonia Gandhi's recent visit to U.P.," said a senior leader.

Congress(I) leaders believe that having failed to stop the BJP from coming to power for the third time in a row, the S.P. is becoming irrelevant as a political force. According to them, the State's minorities have begun thinking of the Congress(I) as an alternative to the S.P. The Congress(I) hopes to benefit from the anti-incumbency factor and attract the votes of the upper castes in the next elections. It feels that Muslims, who have been voting for the S.P., will turn to the Congress(I) if they see the upper-caste voter getting back to the party fold. Besides, the Congress(I) does not want to annoy Dalits, once its loyal supporters but now the backbone of the BSP. The party hopes to win back their support before the next Lok Sabha elections. In such a context, they believe that an alliance with the S.P. would be suicidal.

In the 403-member House, the S.P. has 142 MLAs, the BSP 99, the BJP 88 and the Congress(I) 25. The BSP-BJP coalition government is supported by smaller parties such as the Rashtriya Lok Dal (14), the Janata Dal(U) (2) and the Loktantrik Congress Party (3) and 10 independents, taking the total strength of the coalition to 216. After the independents withdrew support, the Governor maintained that the government had a strength of 210, well above the required 203 mark. Even if one goes by this account, the withdrawal of support by 12 BJP MLAs would reduce the government to a minority. The rest will, however, depend on the Governor and the Speaker.

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