Another shade of saffron

Print edition : May 19, 2006

Uma Bharati launches her party at a ceremony that seems to send a message through its simplicity.

BY VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in Ujjain and New Delhi

Uma Bharati unfurls the flag of her party at its launch in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh on April 30.-AP

THE launch of Uma Bharati's party, the Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS), at the religious town of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh on April 30 was a low-key affair. A number of garnishes that seem to have become mandatory at political conclaves, such as arches and festoons, chartered vehicles ferrying activists and technology-driven spectacular shows, were conspicuous by their absence.

A few saffron banners and posters with Uma Bharati's picture and proclamations of "Jai Bharat, Jai Bharati" were put up around the town. The rostrums for the two main functions - unveiling of the party flag and the mass rally - had the rather plainly drawn backdrop of "Bharat Mata" on one side and a map of India plastered with pictures of a number of historical figures including Bhagat Singh, B.R. Ambedkar and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader M.S. Golwalkar. A large number of participants at both the functions told this correspondent that they had made their own travel arrangements to attend the function or used public transport.

This simplicity was, in a way, symbolic of a political message that Uma Bharati has been trying to stress since her expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister repeated at all the various campaign yatras in the run-up to the launch of her party that she had to part ways with the BJP because of the "corporatisation" of the parent party's leadership and its consequent alienation from the common workers of the party. Deliberately or not, the non-extravagant events of the day and the predominantly "commoner" crowd emphasised a contrast with the recent functions of the BJP, including its silver jubilee conclave in Mumbai last December.

The symbolism was not confined to these aspects. The flag of the new party and the symbol on it had a symbolic message too. The undiluted saffron of the flag was, according to a number of Uma Bharati's supporters, another reminder to the BJP of how it had diluted the Hindutva ideology and how the BJS was committed to upholding it. "It is a message to the Sangh Parivar as a whole, and particularly to its ideological, organisational leader, the RSS, about the intent of the BJS to pursue Hindutva in all its purity," said a close associate of Uma Bharati.

Uma Bharati explained the values symbolised by the party colour at the flag-unveiling function: ``My flag is saffron, the colour of Mother Earth, and my symbol is the rising sun, the embodiment of energy and knowledge, which will guide us and the people and the country as a whole to enlightenment and prosperity." She maintained that the launch of the BJS had given an opportunity to the BJP, its leadership and its supporters a chance to protect its ideology and character. "Some people have predicted the demise of the BJP, but that will not happen," she declared. "For I have protected its ideology through this new party, its flag and symbol."

There was also a relatively direct appeal to BJP workers to rally around the BJS: "The lotus [BJP symbol] cannot bloom without the sun," she said. The religious significance of the day chosen for the launch - Akshay Tritiya - enhanced the Hindutva dimension.

Uma Bharati openly supported the proposal for reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in higher education, marking a distinctly different line from that of the ambivalent BJP. "Reservation should continue until sons of the Prime Minister and a villager study together," she said to thunderous applause from the crowd, dominated by members of her own OBC Lodh community.

Clearly, the BJS plans to pursue the "social engineering" strategy advocated originally by K.N. Govindacharya, once chief ideologue of the BJP, and pursued aggressively by the Sangh Parivar in the 1980s and 1990s. This had thrown up a number of OBC leaders for the BJP, including Uma Bharati, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar, Sushil Modi and Bangaru Lakshman.

Kalyan Singh and Bangaru Lakshman have had their share of quarrels with the BJP leadership in the past few years. Kalyan Singh left the BJP to form his own party and it did cut into the BJP's votes in Uttar Pradesh. He was taken back before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and given complete charge of the State. It is a moot question whether a similar recall awaits Uma Bharati.

Such questions are obviously not in the minds of the BJS leaders and her associates at the moment. Uma Bharati and the core leadership of the BJS, comprising former BJP Union Ministers Sangha Priya Gautam and Prahlad Patel, say that the immediate task would be to evolve and implement concrete action plans. To start with, a committee has been set up to write the new party's constitution. The initiative in Uttar Pradesh, including the spirited campaign in the Rae Bareli byelection against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP leader Vinay Katiyar, is another political manoeuvre.

Tie-ups have been worked out with local parties such as Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh and the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana and with former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana. Uma Bharati, meanwhile, has also demanded to be included in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

A day before the launch, the BJS got a shot in the arm with Raghunandan Sharma, BJP State vice-president in charge of the Ujjain area, joining it. Sharma, a respected Brahmin leader, was promptly appointed national general secretary of the BJS by Uma Bharati. The Sawrn Samaj Party, a local Brahmin outfit, also merged with the BJS.

However, some BJP MLAs who were expected to turn up for the launch did not do so. Shiv Nandan Jagirdar, Lakshman Singh Gaur, and Dhulji Chaudhry were among them, according to informed sources in the BJS. However, seven Madhya Pradesh MLAs have come out openly in support of the BJS.

Some Uma Bharati associates say that the leader herself has prevented many MLAs from openly aligning with her at the moment. "They will all come in good time. Like the party's launch, we are planning to carve out, unassumingly and yet steadily, our space in the political firmament," said a BJS activist from New Delhi.

The launch day functions certainly reflected optimism and an enthusiasm to build up Uma Bharati's political constituency. Even some sections of the RSS leadership are said to have seen this as a positive sign. But the BJP leadership in Delhi hopes that the maverick sanyasin will not be able to maintain this steady pace for long. A possible lack of resources is also seen as a likely impediment.

But if the beginning is anything to go by, the BJS could obstruct the path of the BJP in many North Indian States.

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