Uttar Pradesh rumblings

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST

The "power at any cost" approach of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime in Uttar Pradesh is taking a heavy toll in terms of primary tasks of governance.

THE politics and policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling coalition in Uttar Pradesh are becoming curiouser and curiouser. Recent events indicate a serious lack of cohesion within the BJP itself and the coalition in general, yet the Ministry ch ugs along. In spite of a stunning defeat on the floor of the Assembly on April 9, Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta acts as if nothing was amiss. Clearly, the benefits of office and considerations of political survival are paramount in the scheme of thing s of the coalition partners. But the "power at any cost" approach has taken a heavy toll on the primary tasks of governance, such as ensuring development and maintaining law and order.

The setback in the Assembly, during the introduction of the Trade Tax (Amendment) Bill 2000 provides a glaring example of the coalition's inefficiency. The government simply had not done enough groundwork in terms of floor coordination before introducing the bill. Sensing that the Treasury benches were short of numbers, the Opposition unitedly sought a division; the bill could not be introduced as 83 MLAs opposed it while only 55 voted for it.

The Opposition then stalled the proceedings and demanded that the government resign. Leaders of Opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress(I), met Governor Suraj Bhan and staked their claim to form an alternative government. The Ministry was eventually saved from further embarrassment by means of some clever legal hair-splitting resorted to by Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi.

The Speaker contended that the government was not bound to resign since the bill had not become a money bill. He advanced two arguments to support this contention. First, it was the introduction of the bill that was defeated and the Presiding Officer of the House had not yet certified it as a money bill. Second, the bill had not been debated and hence the House had not analysed its provisions before rejecting it. According to him, defeating the bill at the introductory stage was a "premature delivery" b y the Opposition. The Chief Minister announced that he was ready to face a vote of confidence and that the Governor had not accepted the Opposition's claim to form an alternative Ministry.

However, the message that Ram Prakash Gupta was incapable of managing the coalition had been driven home yet again. Also, it was clear that the removal of Kalyan Singh from the office of Chief Minister had failed to cure the ills of the BJP.

The two main charges against Kalyan Singh were that he had alienated party MLAs and alliance partners by behaving in a high-handed manner and that he had become less attentive to matters of governance as he was controlled by a coterie. A BJP MLA told Frontline: "In any case, we were not defeated on the floor of the House under Kalyan Singh's leadership." He asserted that the April 9 event reflected the failure of the post-Kalyan Singh leadership to build harmony within the coalition and advance t he interests of the State. Clearly, the dominant perception in BJP circles and also among other constituents of the coalition is that things have gone from bad to worse under Gupta's leadership.

During the Rajya Sabha elections in the last week of March, the lack of coordination in and the absence of direction in the coalition were in evidence. Rajiv Shukla, a candidate of the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), a constituent of the coalit ion, emerged the biggest winner with 50 votes while the BJP's own candidates barely scraped through. The Chief Minister castigated the UPLC for "stealing votes from the BJP" and practising "immoral politics". The UPLC, in turn, boycotted a Cabinet meetin g and threatened to complain to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee about Ram Prakash Gupta's ways. Then came the defeat in the Assembly, and the sabre-rattling ended.

Obviously, the truce is a temporary one. There are indications that the UPLC is planning yet another manoeuvre, motivated by self-interest, for the May 4 elections to the Legislative Council. Elections will be held for 13 seats, of which the Chief Minist er is contesting one. To continue in his post, Gupta has to become a member of either House of the legislature before May 12.

Apparently, the UPLC plans to support the candidature of Kusum Rai of Kalyan Singh's Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP). This is obviously in return for Kalyan Singh's efforts to improve Rajiv Shukla's chances in the Rajya Sabha elections. Leaders of the UPLC and the RKP confirm in private that as many as 17 BJP MLAs still owe their allegiance to Kalyan Singh and that they voted for Shukla at the former Chief Minister's behest.

The arithmetic of the Council elections is such that the UPLC cannot get any candidate elected on its own strength because a minimum of 33 first preference votes are needed for the purpose. The UPLC has only 20 MLAs. However, if the UPLC votes are added to that of the Kalyan Singh followers in the BJP, then it can ensure victory for one candidate. According to informed sources, Kusum Rai will be that candidate.

Such an outcome will embarrass the BJP leadership, for Kusum Rai's "undue influence over the State administration" was an issue highlighted in the anti-Kalyan Singh campaign inside the BJP for nearly a year. Ultimately, it led to Kalyan Singh's removal f rom office and later from the party. On record, however, Kusum Rai as well as the UPLC leadership deny that there is any move to prop her up. The last date for filing nominations is April 24. The picture will be clear by then.

A section of the BJP's central leadership, considered close to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and party general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, is advocating some drastic changes in order to revive the party. According to them, the BJP should cause the fa ll of the present government and go in for President's Rule under a more favourable Governor. They say the mistakes of the present government could be corrected during Governor's rule and the BJP could take credit for this. And on the strength of this, t he party could face the elections, with Union Minister Rajnath Singh as the potential Chief Minister.

This strategy presupposes that the Opposition will not form an alternative government if the present one falls. Its advocates also believe that a crisis can be created in the coalition by asking the alliance partners to drop a large number of their Minis ters - the coalition partners would not agree and the government will fall. However, senior leaders, including Advani, reportedly questioned the wisdom of such a plan. According to informed sources, Advani, while admitting that the Ram Prakash Gupta regi me has been counter-productive, has apprehensions whether the imposition of President's Rule will be ratified by the Rajya Sabha, when the BJP-led alliance is in a minority. The bitter experience of the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Governme nt at the Centre in the aftermath of the dismissal of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Ministry in Bihar is fresh in the minds of BJP leaders.

Commenting on the situation, a Lok Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh remarked that Ram Pakash Gupta's leadership has not only made Uttar Pradesh a cauldron of political and administrative confusion but also sowed confusion at the Centre.

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