Mayawatis turn

Print edition : February 01, 2008

Mayawati at the press conference in New Delhi on January 7 where she accused some Congress leaders of conspiring to eliminate her. At left is her close aide Satish Chandra Mishra.-VIJAY JOSHI/PTI

The Congress-BSP bonhomie to fight Mulayam Singh Yadav has ended and new games that can influence national politics have begun.

Mayawati at the

THE new year promises to be one of exciting new turns in Uttar Pradesh politics. The Mayawati-led ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the principal opposition party, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), are at the centre of developments that have raised this promise, but the course of events and the impact they will have are bound to affect the two major forces in national politics, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The developments that unravelled in the first ten days of 2008 were significant and at times dramatic.

Central to these developments is the redefining of the relationship between the BSP and the Congress, the leader of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ruling at the Centre. For the past four years broadly the period since the inception of the UPA government the BSP and the Congress have had a symbiotic political relationship, which placed the S.P. as the principal adversary of both the parties in Uttar Pradesh.

Until the BSP came to power in Uttar Pradesh in May 2007, the Congress and BSP campaigns against the then Mulayam Singh Yadav-led S.P. government in the State displayed a level of convergence, although technically both parties advanced independent initiatives. The initial days after the BSPs rise to power in Uttar Pradesh were marked by a sense of bonhomie between the State and Central governments. Leaders of the Union government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi expressed a readiness to respond positively to the demands of the Uttar Pradesh government. In turn, Chief Minister Mayawati vouched lasting support to the UPA.

All that changed in the first few days of 2008. The clearest indicator of this came at a press conference that Mayawati addressed in New Delhi on January 7. Making a dramatic presentation, Mayawati accused some Congress leaders of conspiring to eliminate her. She stated that State intelligence agencies had reported an enhanced threat to her life and, consequently, the Uttar Pradesh government sought Special Protection Group (SPG) cover for her but the Union government refused to grant it. In such a situation, the Congress leadership would be entirely responsible if something untoward happened to her, she said. Mayawati also said that all this had made the BSP consider withdrawal of support to the UPA government and added that a decision would be taken after her birthday on January 15.

Mayawati argued that the refusal to deploy SPG protection for her was only one of the many inimical moves by the Congress against the BSP. The Congress-led coalition at the Centre is following the same path as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government before it and is harassing me by trying to involve me in fake cases, she said. She cited as a case in point the deliberate delay by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to close the disproportionate assets case against her.

Another indication of the conspiracy against her, she said, was the patronage provided by some Congress leaders to Atiq Ahmed, Lok Sabha member from Phulpur, who is an accused in the case relating to the murder of Raju Pal, a former BSP Member of the Legislative Assembly. Ahmed won the Lok Sabha election as an S.P. candidate and was expelled recently from the party. He is apparently moving closer to the Congress along with Beni Prasad Verma, another expelled S.P. leader.

Politicians and political observers in Uttar Pradesh give a number of reasons for the fast-changing equations between the Congress and the BSP. Qualitatively, these fall into categories such as political, financial and administrative. A widely held perception is that Mayawati has not taken lightly to the Union Home Ministrys criticism of the security lapses of the State forces, which apparently led to the terrorist attack at Rampur on January 1. The second reason apparently relates to the disproportionate assets case against her. According to many BSP activists, the Central government is dilly-dallying on this case.

In June 2007, when the Congress needed the BSPs votes in the presidential election, the States Governor, T.V. Rajeshwar, even refused to sanction prosecution against Behenji in the Taj Corridor case. Now, they are slowing down, obviously with an aim to use the disproportionate assets case as a political weapon, a senior BSP leader told Frontline. The leader also pointed out that all this was happening on account of the growing political clout of Mayawati in other parts of the country, including South India. In the leaders perception, this political reason was the prime motivation for the Congress anti-BSP manoeuvres.

This political factor had come into play even before the advent of the new year. The results of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, which were announced in the last week of December 2007, showed that the BSP had secured approximately 7 per cent of the votes polled and this had played a major role in the Congresss defeat in the State. This result added to the panic in the Congress over Mayawatis forays into Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister held huge rallies in these States over the past two months and everywhere she called for the development of a political combination of upper castes and Dalits on the Uttar Pradesh pattern. In the process, she also poached some influential local leaders from other parties in these States. A case in point is P.G.R Scindhia, a former Janata Dal (Secular) Minister in Karnataka known for his principled opposition to communal politics.

Obviously, large sections of the Congress leadership in the respective States as well as at the Centre perceive this as a major political threat. According to a senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, Mayawatis forays could well mark the rise of a strong pan-Indian Dalit party. This, obviously, would cut into the Congress vote in a number of States, including the bigger ones like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The panic factor caused by this has motivated many a Congress leader to advocate a shift to an adversarial position vis-a-vis the BSP. At the same time, the BSP leadership has also come to the conclusion that it has to start treating the Congress as a clear political opponent if it is to advance in States such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

It is amid these calculations on both sides that the demand for SPG protection has become a bone of contention between the BSP and the Congress. The Congress leadership, on its part, explained that the refusal of SPG protection was not politically motivated. According to a senior Uttar Pradesh Congress leader, existing laws do not permit the extension of the facility to any personality other than the Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members.

Apparently, the Union Home Ministry considered the Uttar Pradesh governments demand in detail before expressing its inability to extend such security to Mayawati. The various Central security agencies that considered the demand were also, reportedly, of the view that the enhanced threat perception that Mayawati seemed to have was not realistic. If SPG cover has to be accorded to Chief Ministers, then the first on the list would be Narendra Modi of Gujarat followed by Ghulam Nabi Azad of Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress leader said. The leader added that there was also the perception among security agencies that putting Mayawati into the SPG-protected list would lead to similar demands from other Chief Ministers.

In Hyderabad on January 6, Mayawati addressing a rally of supporters from the backward classes.-MOHAMMED YOUSUF

In Hyderabad on

Even while they present these facts, a number of Congress leaders are of the view that even the demand for SPG protection could be converted into a politically advantageous issue by Mayawati and her associates. Their view was that Mayawati could well use this in an emotive campaign highlighting the denial of facilities to Dalits. When the disproportionate assets case came up against her, she campaigned publicly saying that Manuwadi politicians did not like a Dalit woman becoming a crorepati, and that had touched an emotive chord in her support base. Now, she could turn around and say that SPG protection was being denied to a Dalit politician and this too could become an emotive issue, the senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC), on its part, has opened yet another front against the BSP government, by planning an agitation to focus on the neglect of the Bundelkhand region. According to UPCC president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the State government has failed in the past seven months to address the needs of the region. The region has been drought-hit for over five years and its cane farmers and common population are in the grip of a famine-like situation. The BSP had promised to alleviate the problems of the region but nothing concrete has happened in the past seven months, says Joshi.

The redefining of the relationship between the Congress and the BSP is, naturally, being perceived by the S.P. as an opportunity to advance aggressively some of its anti-State government campaigns. When Mayawati took oath as Chief Minister, S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav announced that his party would not engage in anti-government campaigns for the first six months.

The conclusion of that grace period has come with the souring of relations between the BSP and the Congress. The S.P.s principal anti-government manoeuvres are expected to unravel with a series of farmers agitations in February. But even before that the party has got an emotive issue that has excited its cadre greatly.

On January 9, two days after Mayawati held the press conference in New Delhi, S.P. leaders Shivpal Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, brother and son respectively of Mulayam Singh Yadav, were manhandled by policemen, leading to fierce protest marches across Uttar Pradesh by S.P. activists. The marches also led to pitched battles on the streets in many districts, including Lucknow, Kanpur, Etawah, Allahabad and Firozabad. One person was killed in police firing and many were injured in these clashes.

The S.P. leadership, by all indications, is planning to make use of this atmosphere to launch a sustained campaign against the BSP government on a number of popular issues such as price rise, neglect of the agricultural sector and the denial of democratic rights in college student unions. Clearly, Uttar Pradesh politics is entering yet another phase.

This may not result in political instability, as has happened many times in the past decade and a half, but this is bound to impact national politics in many ways.

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