Mounting pressure

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST

The BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh finds itself in a spot as MLAs of the Samajwadi Party and some other Opposition parties resign en masse seeking early elections to the Assembly.

PERHAPS the most unlikely and unintended casualty of the terrorist attacks in the United States was Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav, in Lucknow. On September 11, S.P. members of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly resigned en masse in order to put pressure on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led State government to call for early elections to the State Assembly. However, a political development that would otherwise have made headlines, got lost in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington. Yet its political significance was lost on none. Moreover, on September 13, five MLAs belonging to the Left parties - four of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and one of the Communist Party of India - and one each of the Janata Dal (United) and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party also resigned. Political developments since September 11 points to early elections, earlier than March 2002 as Chief Minister Rajnath Singh would have one believe.

Stealing the initiative from his party's rivals, the Congress(I) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Mulayam Singh Yadav marched to the Speaker's office in the Assembly complex and handed over the resignations of 77 of his MLAs, who were present at a legislature party meeting. He later met Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri and urged him to dissolve the Assembly immediately and call for fresh elections so that a new Assembly would be in place by October 17, when the term of the current Assembly expired. He told mediapersons: "There is total anarchy in the State. There is no power, no food, no law and order. Corrupt and criminal elements are given protection by this government. The farmers' plight is unimaginable. My party cannot remain a contributor to this farce any more. The earlier the people get rid of this government, the better it would be for the health of the state." He urged MLAs of other parties, including the ruling alliance, to resign so that fresh elections could be held and a new government installed in time.

Although the move was immediately dubbed as a "political stunt" by the BSP, also a major rival of the S.P. in Uttar Pradesh, and the Congress(I), there were indications that the two parties too may follow suit. Despite all his bravado, the Rajnath Singh government will be put in a quandary if Congress(I) and BSP MLAs also resign. Realising the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee summoned Rajnath Singh to Delhi on September 12 for an assessment of the situation. Rajnath Singh arrived in Delhi, accompanied by State BJP president Kalraj Mishra, the Public Works Minister Lalji Tandon and senior leaders Om Prakash Singh and Harish Chandra Srivastava.

In a meeting with the Prime Minister that lasted for more than two hours and was attended by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh apprised them of the need to implement the "quota within quota policy" before going in for elections. He told the Prime Minister that the BJP's prospects would brighten once the new reservation formula was implemented and jobs given to over 45,000 youth under the new scheme.

After the meeting, Rajnath Singh told mediapersons: "The government is under no threat because of the resignations. It has been done solely to thwart the implementation of the new reservation policy. They have seen the government's graph going up because 45,000 youth will get jobs under this new policy. So they are nervous." He declared that he would not go in for elections until he implemented the new reservation policy. "I will see to it that the report of the Social Justice Committee is implemented before October 1." Rajnath Singh said that as far as the government was concerned, the resignations posed no constitutional or moral crisis. "As per the Constitution, the term of the Assembly is until March 26, 2002 and a new government will be there by that time. There is no moral crisis before me because it is not me but they (S.P.) who have committed an act of moral impropriety by making a mockery of the Constitution," he said.

On September 13, the State Cabinet met and approved the report of the Social Justice Committee. An ordinance was issued on September 15 to implement the provisions for separate quota for the most backward castes among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits in the reservation available for them. The ordinance also increased the quantum of reservation for the OBCs from 27 per cent to 28 per cent, as recommended by the Social Justice Committee. The State Assembly is slated to meet in the last week of September for a special session to approve the new reservation formula formally.

Soon after the implementation of the new reservation policy, Rajnath Singh dismissed his Minister for Tourism Ashok Yadav for "anti-party activities". Ashok Yadav had opposed the Chief Minister's "quota within quota" policy as he believed that it would deprive the backward castes of their due share in government jobs. Moreover, he had attended a meeting with Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and Lok Janshakti president Ram Vilas Paswan on September 13. Apparently, the meeting was held to herald Dalit-OBC unity in order to oppose Rajnath Singh's new reservation policy that sought to divide the communities.

The BSP and the Congress(I) have announced that their MLAs will resign by October 17. Such a move will make matters worse for the Rajnath Singh government and force it to hold elections as early as possible. "The BJP government is in a minority, and it should have resigned following the resignations. Although we are not going to follow the S.P., we will do a dhamaka (explosion) in October," BSP leader and former Chief Minister Mayawati said soon after the S.P. MLAs resigned. The Congress(I) too expressed a similar view though it rued the fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav had not taken other Opposition parties into confidence. Congress(I) spokesperson Shatrudh Prakash said in Lucknow: "No legislator has the moral right to continue after the completion of the five-year tenure. The Samajwadi Party has taken the decision at an early stage to gain political mileage."

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) held an urgent meeting in Delhi after the S.P. MLAs' resignation. The meeting reviewed the political situation in Uttar Pradesh and decided that Congress(I) MLAs would resign if the Assembly was not dissolved by October 17 and fresh elections ordered. All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "The term of the Assembly expires on October 17 and all Congress MLAs would resign if there was a move to postpone polls beyond that date."

All these developments and the Cabinet's hasty decision to implement the reservation policy indicate that despite his pronouncements, Rajnath Singh is getting ready for polls sooner than he would like one to believe. "I would personally prefer elections to be held early. But it is for the Election Commission to announce the dates," he told Frontline. It is learnt that the Chief Minister would like to face the electorate in January or February 2002.

Sensing the election mood, the Congress(I), which appeared the least interested in the Uttar Pradesh elections, has started preparing for them. On September 18, the much-delayed parivartan yatras were flagged off from six parts of the State - Deoband, Lalitpur, Gautambuddha Nagar, Ballia, Varanasi and Deoria. The much-hyped yatras, though lacking in substance because of poor response, are expected to mobilise the masses in favour of the party. Senior Congress(I) leaders, including Chief Ministers Sheila Dixit, Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi, are participating in the fortnight-long yatras, which would culminate in a rally in Lucknow on October 4. The rally would be addressed by Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi.

Meanwhile, the political developments have once again triggered a debate whether the term of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly expires on October 16 or March 26, 2002. The Chief Minister and other BJP leaders say that the term of the Assembly begins on the first day it holds its meeting and expires five years later on that date. They say Article 172 (1) of the Constitution makes this clear. The Election Commission too seems to subscribe to this view. Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh said in Lucknow recently that electoral rolls for the State were being prepared and it would be completed by February next. Since elections could be held only after February, he meant that the Assembly could continue until next March.

However, others differ. According to some constitutional experts, the term of the Assembly ceases on the day it completes five years from the time it was constituted. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the current Assembly came into existence on October 16, 1996, though it could not meet because no party could form the government and President's Rule was re-imposed in the State. President's Rule continued until March 26, 1997, when the BJP and the BSP joined hands to form the government. These experts feel that it is not the fact on which date the Assembly held its first meeting, but the people's right to vote that should be the clinching factor.

Whatever be the case, political parties in the State have started oiling their machinery because elections could be announced any day and nobody wants to be taken by surprise.

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