Shifting sands

Published : Feb 26, 2010 00:00 IST

Amar Singh and Jaya Prada, who were expelled from the Samajwadi Party, arriving for a press conference in New Delhi on February 4.-AMAN SHARMA/PTI

Amar Singh and Jaya Prada, who were expelled from the Samajwadi Party, arriving for a press conference in New Delhi on February 4.-AMAN SHARMA/PTI

POLITICS in Uttar Pradesh is poised for a few interesting twists and turns following the expulsion of senior leader Amar Singh and Lok Sabha member Jaya Prada from the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) on February 2. Several political observers are of the view that the former general secretarys ouster could even lead to a political realignment on the basis of caste, which has been central to the States politics for many decades. It may be too early to predict what shape this process of realignment would take, but certain definitive characteristics have started emerging as is evident from the developments in the S.P. and the activities in the Congress and in the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party. The former has been devising plans to consolidate the gains it made in the State in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The most notable manifestation of such political development is the resolute attempt by the S.P. to recapture its traditional socialist credentials. The mass agitation programmes organised by the party in the days immediately before and after Amar Singhs expulsion reflected this. They also evoked a positive response from the partys rank and file. Mohan Singh, the newly appointed spokesperson in place of Amar Singh, sought to reaffirm this return to the roots when he accused Amar Singh of having sought to inject capitalist designs into the party. It is unfortunate that we realised these designs only after 14 years, he said.

The process of this so-called realisation had hastened in the past four months, according to many S.P. insiders and observers. It became apparent with the consistent public jousting between Amar Singh and Ram Gopal Yadav, S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadavs brother, on a number of issues regarding the partys political direction and organisation. Amar Singh started it by criticising the S.P.s performance in the November 2009 Firozabad Lok Sabha byelection, where it suffered a humiliating defeat. The byelection was necessitated by the resignation of the seat by Mulayam Singhs son and the partys State unit president Akhilesh Yadav, after having been elected from two seats in the Lok Sabha elections. Akhileshs wife Dimple Yadav contested from here but was defeated by the Congress candidate Raj Babbar. Amar Singh publicly questioned the partys strategy in the election. Ram Gopal Yadav saw this as indiscipline. This led to the first round of jousting between the two.

By early January, in a nuanced move, Amar Singh began targeting the party chief himself. He sent in his resignation from all party posts. Though the reason stated in the resignation letter was his fragile health following a kidney transplant, it was evident that the jousting with Ram Gopal Yadav and the perception that Mulayam Singh was protecting his brother were key factors that triggered the move. The message to Mulayam Singh was clear: shift the umbrella of protection from Ram Gopal Yadav.

Mulayam Singh initially refused to accept the resignation, obviously giving a signal that he was ready to act as peacemaker. But neither Amar Singh nor Ram Gopal Yadav was ready to reach a compromise. In the meantime, Ram Gopal Yadavs position evoked great support from within the partys organisational structure, and ultimately the S.P. chief accepted Amar Singhs resignation on January 17, eleven days after it was sent.

Once this happened, the gloves were off. Amar Singh said that it was not merely his health problems but also the criminalisation in the S.P. that compelled him to seek remission from official responsibilities. He went on to add that Mulayam Singh had failed to check this criminalisation, and in a sense was even encouraging the rise of such interests in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. Though Mulayam Singh chose not to respond to this, other leaders in the S.P., including former State Minister Ambika Choudhary, retaliated by saying that Amar Singh was discovering new-found criminalisation in the S.P. just to make himself seen by the Congress and the BSP as amiable.

Ambika Choudharys contention was that Amar Singh was doing this in order to wriggle out of the money laundering and corruption case filed against him in October 2008 at Kanpur. Amar Singh has always used political activity as an instrument to protect and promote the business and other commercial interests of himself and his friends. In the new political circumstances, he requires support from either the Congress, the ruling party at the Centre, or from the BSP, the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh. While the former could force investigative agencies to go slow, the latter can even withdraw the first information report [FIR] filed against him in Kanpur. The S.P. should not fall prey to such gamesmanship, Ambika Choudhary told Frontline a couple of days before Amar Singhs expulsion from the party.

Whatever be the truth of this, it is no secret in S.P. circles that Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh have been holding divergent views on the partys relationship with the Congress after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. While the S.P. is indeed technically supporting the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, Mulayam Singh apparently wants to have a political equation that asserts the partys identity as a constructive opposition. This means that it would go in for greater cooperation, both within Parliament and outside, with the non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political forces, including the Left parties.

Amar Singh apparently was of the view that there should be greater cooperation with the Congress at the Centre so that it ultimately led to an alliance in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam Singhs opinion on this has been that any alliance with the Congress in the State needs to be worked out from a position of strength and cannot be done in haste. It was the cumulative effect of all these that finally led to the rupture between Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh.

There is little doubt that Amar Singhs absence will be felt in S.P. forums. His was a dominating presence on party platforms for nearly a decade and a half. As a well-connected businessman-industrialist, he not only helped raise considerable funds for the party but also attracted many personalities from the film industry and the corporate world to the party. They included actors Jaya Bachchan, Jaya Prada and Sanjay Dutt and the industrial magnate Anil Ambani.

His was a regular presence on national television on account of his eloquence and somewhat contentious style of presentation. This undoubtedly helped the S.P. to be seen as a national party, the views of which merited attention.

In the process, however, he alienated many founder-leaders of the S.P. from the party. They included Mohammed Azam Khan and Beni Prasad Verma. While there are indications that Azam Khan would make a comeback to the S.P. following Amar Singhs ouster, Beni Prasad Verma is safely ensconced in the Congress as a Lok Sabha member.

Amar Singhs political forays in the past 14 years were made on the strength of the S.P.s vast support base in Uttar Pradesh, which was built essentially on the Other Backward Classes (OBC) credentials of Mulayam Singh. It remains to be seen how both the S.P. and Amar Singh will take forward their respective political campaigns in the future.

Amar Singhs absence on the national scene, particularly in the media, may divest the S.P. of an articulate proponent of the partys views, but new spokespersons like Mohan Singh and Ram Gopal Yadav also have their value on account of their steady and less contentious approach to political presentations and media interactions. On the other hand, the expulsion has taken away from Amar Singh the mass base of the S.P.

In the past decade and a half, Amar Singh has sought to present himself as a definitive leader of the upper-caste Thakur community in Uttar Pradesh. This has had some limited success, particularly in the eastern parts of the State. The absence of towering Thakur leaders such as former Prime Ministers Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar in active politics in the past decade also helped him in many ways. Yet, not many observers are convinced that Amar Singh can emerge as a Thakur leader with a State-wide appeal.

The political affiliations that Amar Singh may build up in the future too are at present in the realm of conjecture. While it is clear that his first preference is the Congress, indications are that he has not met with a good response. The majority in the Congress leadership, both at the Centre and in the State, apparently feels that the Thakur leader could be more of a liability than an asset, especially in the background of his unique political and individual pressure tactics. Moreover, the party believes that it can revive on its own and that the problems in the S.P. will only facilitate the process.

For the record, Amar Singh has announced the formation of the Lok Manch (Peoples Platform), which he says is an apolitical organisation to uplift the oppressed sections of society, including Most Backward Castes (MBCs) and Dalits. He has also tied up with nascent organisations such as the Peace Party of India, which contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections on a relatively extremist platform on issues relating to the Muslim community. All these moves can possibly take only one political direction: an understanding between the Lok Manch and the BSP.

The ruling party of Uttar Pradesh, which won the last Lok Sabha elections on the slogan of Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara (Dalit-Brahmin brotherhood), has been losing its upper-caste Brahmin support base to the Congress. It would hence welcome whatever upper-caste support it can get in order to add to its core Dalit vote base. Amar Singh and the Lok Manch could come in handy here, and if that happens, it could lead to a new political alignment in the caste-ridden politics of Uttar Pradesh.

In the meantime, the S.P. is all set to rediscover its militant socialist path, both in terms of politics and in terms of its organisational functioning. Clearly, interesting times are ahead in the countrys most populous State.

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