The churning in Uttar Pradesh

Print edition : February 16, 2002

The temple factor essentially loses its fizz for the average BJP voter in Uttar Pradesh even as there is a consolidation of the Muslim vote to strengthen the prospects of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

GOING by the mood on the ground, if the Sangh Parivar thought it was helping the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, scheduled to be held on February 14, 18 and 21, by allowing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to rake up the Ayodhya temple issue once again, it may be mistaken. The VHP's shrill rhetoric that the construction of the Ram temple would begin any day after March 12 seems to have achieved just the opposite result for the BJP. While it has failed to enthuse and unite Hindu voters in the name of the temple, it has certainly contributed a great deal towards the consolidation of the Muslim vote in favour of anyone who is capable of defeating the BJP and who, when in power, will ensure that the VHP's temple designs after March 12 are defeated. In this context, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) stands to gain the most. However, the surprise development is that the Congress is back in the reckoning when it comes to the Muslim vote.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav at an election rally in Azamgarh.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Having narrowed down their option to the S.P. and the Congress, the Muslim voters have given the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) a thought only in those areas where its candidates are certain to defeat the official BJP candidate. Incidentally, the BSP has fielded 86 Muslim candidates, the S.P. 47, the Congress 52 and the BJP one. The BSP is down in the rating because the Muslim voters find its leader Mayawati to be "untrustworthy".

"Mayawati has proved to be unreliable. She joined hands with the BJP twice, even to form a government on a six-monthly basis. When we voted for her in the last two elections it was to oppose the BJP, but she insulted our sentiments and joined hands with the BJP. We will never support her again," said Aizaz Ahmad in the Ayodhya Assembly constituency, voicing the feelings of over a dozen Muslims seated with him in his grocery store.

"We have lost faith in the present government. It has failed to prove that it was serious about stopping the VHP if it pushed ahead with its temple programme. There is so much security at the disputed site, yet the VHP leaders went inside the prohibited area and offered puja. We can never forget that there was a BJP government in Lucknow when the masjid was demolished. Now we need someone in Lucknow who can decisively stop the VHP, and Mulayam Singh is the only person who has proved himself on that count. He stopped the kar sevaks in 1990, otherwise the Babri Masjid would have fallen then itself," he said.

I.M. Khan, who runs a pharmacy store in Faizabad, concurs with the view: "We will vote in such a way that this government cannot come back to power. We will vote for any candidate belonging either to the S.P. or the Congress who is in a better position to defeat the BJP."

Similar feelings were expressed by Col. (retd.) M.J. Shamsi, who heads the Internet section of Nadwa-tul-Ulema, an internationally known madrassa in Lucknow. (Shamsi, however, made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of Nadwa, but in his personal capacity.)

According to Alam Khan, a Food Corporation of India employee in Unnao, although there is a wave in favour of the S.P. in most parts of the State, especially in the Unnao-Kanpur-Etah-Etawah belt, considered Mulayam Singh's stronghold, there is a softening of the attitude towards the Congress too. "We have realised that the Congress is the only party which has never mixed politics with religion. It is not in a position to form the government on its own. Still there are areas where the Congress candidates are strong. If they join hands with the S.P. later to form the government, we will not mind it," Khan said, recounting the popular sentiment in central U.P.

A tour of areas including Lucknow, Mohanlal Ganj, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Unnao and Kanpur in central and eastern U.P. revealed that for the average BJP voter, development issues and the image of the candidate, irrespective of the party she or he represents, are the deciding factors. For the non-BJP voter, especially the Muslim voter whose vote can prove decisive in the majority of seats in the region, what is uppermost in their minds is whether the party that is elected to power will be able to establish the rule of law, whether it will be able to stop the VHP's Ayodhya campaign, and whether it will be able to establish the supremacy of the Constitution and Supreme Court.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi launching the party's campaign in Kanpur.-SUBIR ROY

The BJP's pet issues of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and national security have lost their appeal among the voters. The voter has also realised that it is possible that his vote is not going to deliver a clear verdict and that no party will form the government on its own.

"We will vote for the candidate who has worked for the area. Whether the temple is built or not, we do not care," said Pappu Singh in Harha Assembly constituency in Unnao district. Although for voters like him the BJP as a party has failed to deliver the goods, its candidate, Dr. Ganga Bux Singh, would win hands down even if he had contested as an independent. "He has worked so much for the area. Besides, he is such a nice and helpful man. We would have voted for him even if he did not represent the BJP," Pappu Singh and his friends said.

Similarly, in Kanpur Cantonment constituency, Prem Narayan, Suresh and Abad Hussain expressed similar feelings for the BJP candidate, Satish Mahana. According to them, Mahana would win irrespective of which party fielded him. "We do not support the party (the BJP). It has failed on all counts. It has done nothing for us. It has taken us for a ride on the reservation issue, no jobs have come our way. It is a useless party. But Mahana is a nice man and we will not ditch him," Suresh declared.

The fact that it was the individual's image and his performance, and not the temple issue or the government's performance or terrorism, that mattered for the BJP voter was stated clearly by Dr. Banke Bihari Mani Tripathi, a BJP functionary in Faizabad. Speaking in favour of the BJP candidate from Ayodhya, Lallu Singh, he said he was certain to win because he had got work done even in areas that did not constitute his vote bank. "Temple is not an issue. Ultimately the voter will see whether the person he votes for will work for him or not," Banke Bihari said. The fact that the candidate's performance will prove decisive was even more evident in Mohanlal Ganj (reserved) constituency from where R.K. Chaudhary, who was expelled from the BSP, is contesting in alliance with the BJP. The fact that Chaudhary has done a lot of work in this area is cited as the only reason why people would vote for him. The BSP used to be considered invincible in this constituency owing to the presence of a predominant Dalit population. But this time the contest is mainly between Chaudhary and R.P. Saroj of the S.P. The BSP's Parideen Pasi is not in the reckoning.

THE revival in the Congress' fortunes was visible in most parts of the State which this correspondent visited. "Congress ka to fayeda hi fayeda hai (the Congress will stand to gain). It will certainly improve upon its past performance," said Alam Khan in Unnao district, saying that there is an upsurge of support for the Congress. This was evident in Rae Bareli and Sultanpur, considered Congress strongholds. (Rae Bareli was the constituency of Indira Gandhi.) But it was also clear that a lot depended on the candidate's image, notwithstanding the party's Nehru-Gandhi family aura. In Rae Bareli, for example, Congress candidate Akhilesh Singh's victory is seemingly a foregone conclusion because he enjoys much popular support. "We certainly have feelings for the "family". If anybody from the Indira Gandhi family had contested there would have been overwhelming support for him/her. It is a different matter altogether with Akhilesh Singh. The elections are being held only to announce his victory formally," declared Dinesh Chandra Dwivedi. Although it is clear that the Congress is not set to make any big electoral gains, the change in the voters' perception is visible. Even those who conceded that the Congress was in no position to form the government in Uttar Pradesh, ruefully admit that it is the only party that actually knew how to govern.

Chief Minister Rajnath Singh during the Jan Samvad rath yatra in eastern Uttar Pradesh.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Dr. Raj Dutt Pandey, a district-level functionary of the party in Faizabad, says the Congress would have been better placed if it had given the ticket in Ayodhya to a Brahmin instead of a Thakur. (Ashok Singh is the Congress nominee from Ayodhya.) The BJP's Lallu Singh has an edge in the constituency because the substantial number of Brahmin voters have no choice but to vote for him. The politics of caste has gone against the Congress, says Pappu Singh, a supporter of Ganga Bux Singh in Harha, explaining why the Congress would not be in a position to form the government despite the improvement in its position.

The anti-incumbency factor is strong in U.P. Almost everyone who was spoken to was unanimous that the government had done nothing for the poor people. No work has been done anywhere. When there were kuchcha roads in villages one could at least walk on them, now in the name of building pucca roads, there are only potholes," said Alam Khan.

Pappu Singh says: "We do not know what a government is. We do not know what work it has done. There is nothing to be seen in the villages.''

Prem Narayan and Suresh in Kanpur Cantonment expressed similar feelings: "This is a useless government. Instead of giving jobs to people, it has snatched our means of employment," they said, referring to the closure of many industries in Kanpur in the name of pollution.

Caste loyalties are also pronounced in this round of elections in respect of parties such as the S.P. and the BSP, which are expected to get a massive chunk of Yadav and Dalit votes respectively. Another factor that has emerged is that Kalyan Singh's Rashtriya Kranti Party and Apna Dal, a Kurmi party, which have fielded candidates in over 330 seats each, could substantially damage the BJP's prospects. Yet it is also clear that this election will not yield a clear verdict.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor