A feud in Uttar Pradesh

Published : Dec 08, 2001 00:00 IST

Even as Assembly elections approach in Uttar Pradesh, the ruling BJP is further weakened by the feud between Chief Minister Rajnath Singh and State party president Kalraj Mishra.

WHO has emerged as the main rival of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh in the context of the coming Assembly elections? Mulayam Singh Yadav? Mayawati? Sonia Gandhi? No, it is Kalraj Mishra, president of the State unit of his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The tussle between the two is now so intense that it has become the main topic of discussion at the party headquarters in Lucknow. This, at a time when the BJP is already finding the going tough despite Herculean efforts by the Chief Minister.

Kalraj Mishra's grouse against the Chief Minister dates back to the days when Kalyan Singh was the Chief Minister and the party high command was contemplating his replacement. Kalraj Mishra, Public Works Minister at that time, had emerged as a strong contender for the post along with Lalji Tandon, the Urban Development Minister. It was owing to the tussle between Tandon and Kalraj Mishra on this score that Ram Prakash Gupta was made Chief Minister. Ram Prakash Gupta proved himself more of a liability for the party, and Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon once again started vying for the top post. However, their claims were ignored and the much younger and comparatively inexperienced Rajnath Singh was appointed Chief Minister. The argument was that this was necessary to stem the exodus of Thakurs from the BJP. Another factor that worked against Tandon and Kalraj Mishra was that there were allegations of corruption against both of them.

The supporters of Kalraj Mishra see Rajnath Singh's hand behind the charges of corruption against their leader. They also allege that it was at the behest of Rajnath Singh that the former Samajwadi Party legislator from Karhal, the late Baburam Yadav, raised the issue of corruption against Kalraj Mishra in the State Assembly. Kalraj Mishra was forced to declare in the House that if any of the charges against him were proved, he would resign immediately. Although an inquiry was instituted, nothing came of it.

In the meantime, to placate Kalraj Mishra the party made him the State unit president and also gave him a seat in the Rajya Sabha. But the rivalry between him and the Chief Minister continued. It has acquired a further edge because of the Thakur-Brahmin tag that came to be attached to it. Insiders say that ever since Rajnath Singh took over, Brahmins, both in the government and in the party, have been feeling marginalised. Supporters of Kalraj Mishra, who has started representing the Brahmin lobby in the BJP, claim that they could "finish off the upstart Rajnath Singh in no time" if it were not for the elections.

They also allege that it was only to humiliate Kalraj Mishra that the Chief Minister "planted" a story in the newspapers about party coupons of various denominations being misused to raise election funds. "Everyone knows that to collect election funds, party coupons are of no use. For donations running into lakhs and crores, would one distribute coupons?" asked a Kalraj Mishra supporter. He said such coupons were meant for genuine party supporters who donated small amounts of their free will, and were in turn given the coupons as a token of their association with the party.

In order to take the battle into the people's court and to establish Kalraj Mishra as the "real people's leader", Mishra's supporters printed booklets lauding the initiatives he has taken to bring the masses closer to the party. The booklets, titled "Kisan Panchayat", "Kisan Maharally", "Kisan Jagran Yatra" and "Chalo Gaon ki Suney", provide details of how Mishra embarked on yatras and rallies to mobilise the rural masses; they credit him with the concept of spending a night in the villages to establish a rapport with their residents. The booklets seek to establish Kalraj Mishra as the messiah of the rural masses, as the first person in U.P. in the last 50 years to deal with the real problems of village residents. Splashed with pictures of Kalraj Mishra and replete with news clippings lauding his initiative, the booklets seek to project him as the chief architect of the BJP's "village-oriented" strategy. They describe him as the real neta of farmers.

The booklets do not carry any picture of the Chief Minister; they only make a passing reference to his contribution to the farmers' cause, although the Chief Minister claims to be the biggest well-wisher of farmers since Independence. Rajnath Singh describes the measures he took to improve the lot of farmers, such as the record procurement of wheat and rice, uninterrupted power supply for irrigation, and timely payment to sugarcane growers, as his main achievements. But these or other measures taken by Rajnath Singh find no mention in the booklets.

The Chief Minister's supporters have taken strong objection to this. Although unable to voice their feelings openly, they have managed to present their side of the story through the publicity material of the State Information Department. Thus the kisan panchayat organised at the Chief Minister's residence in November 2000 finds pride of place in the State government magazine Sandesh, which lists all the major achievements of the Chief Minister. It gives details of how Rajnath Singh has brought about a "sweet revolution" in the State, the reference being to the record production of sugarcane and the payments made to sugarcane growers. Interestingly, the magazine also gives credit to the Chief Minister for "bringing the rural people" closer by organising panchayats such as that of gram pradhans and farmers. Looking at the nature of the two types of publicity material, one would wonder whether the government and the party organisation have no channels of mutual communication.

Speaking to Frontline, a close aide of Rajnath Singh said that the government obviously could not talk about the achievements of the party, but there was nothing to stop the party from talking about the government's achievements. "It is unfortunate that the party literature has not given due importance to the Chief Minister's efforts to establish contact with the masses. But actions speak for themselves and the people know who is doing what for them," he said. The feud is evident in the party headquarters in Lucknow. Senior leaders are worried that it might spill over and damage the party's poll prospects. "Whether it is a charge of misuse of government machinery by the party or of corruption by party functionaries, in the end the party as a whole will suffer. Both (Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra) are strong individuals in their own right and are obviously asserting their respective might," said a senior leader at the party headquarters.

Party functionaries are also worried that the infighting might take an ugly turn at the time of ticket distribution. Signs of this are already visible at the party office where supporters of Kalraj Mishra fear that their candidates will be sidelined by the Chief Minister who, they say, is bent upon obliging Thakurs. "We will make sure that all our candidates who lost with very narrow margins get the ticket. We will not allow Rajnath Singh's thakurvaad to prevail," said a senior Brahmin leader.

The main Opposition parties, such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, appear much more united than the BJP. Leaders of the Samajwadi Party are in a jubilant mood owing to the BJP's discomfiture with the Election Commission's (E.C.) sharp criticism of the government for tampering with electoral rolls in the Thakurdwara Assembly constituency (Frontline, October 26, 2001). The Samajwadi Party has come up with further proof of this offence and demanded action by the E.C. It has alleged that in Ayodhya, the names of members of the minority community were not being included in the voters' list and those that were already listed were being deleted only to be replaced with names of Hindu voters. It has furnished a copy of the voters' list for Ayodhya, which shows several discrepancies.

The E.C., which promised action, has undertaken a comprehensive revision of the voters' list in the State. The process will be completed by January 7. "We are taking cognisance of all complaints that are of a serious nature. This complaint would also be looked into during this process," said an E.C. functionary.

With elections scheduled to be held in February next year, there is not much time left for the BJP to put its house in order.

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