Continuing crisis in Uttar Pradesh

Print edition : May 22, 1999

Unable to discipline the faction-ridden Uttar Pradesh unit, the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party is in a classic quandary.

THE central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party finds itself caught in a strange predicament in seeking to address the party's affairs in Uttar Pradesh. The challenge posed by its political opponents such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Congress(I) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is not as worrisome to the leadership as the threat that arises out of the factional fights in its own State unit. A party functionary at the national level said:"We are confident of taking on the Opposition parties but have no clue as to how the leaders of the various factions in the State unit can be brought in line." Many central leaders of the BJP, including this functionary, admit privately that the growing factionalism and dissidence could lead to large-scale desertions by MLAs from the party and mid-term elections to the Assembly.

Leaders of the BJP's allies in the State, such as the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), have pointed out that the factionalism is detrimental to the image of the Kalyan Singh Ministry. UPLC president Naresh Aggarwal threatened that his party would withdraw support to the Government if the in-fighting continued. This has caused apprehensions in the central leadership. Understandably, the Congress(I) and the S.P. are seeking to make the most of the situation and have been in touch with BJP dissidents.

The central leadership of the BJP is struggling to stem the strife and bring about cohesion. Several proposals were discussed, agreed upon and announced with fanfare in the last two months but all collapsed. In the past month there have been 10 meetings between representatives of the central leadership and State leaders who included Kalyan Singh, State unit president Rajnath Singh and senior Ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra.

Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.-V. SUDERSHAN

Between May 1 and 5, the central leadership held four rounds of deliberations - first at the national executive and three special conclaves since then, at which central leaders discussed the issue with Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh, Mishra and Tandon. At the end of these, the four top leaders of the party - Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Kushabhau Thakre, who themselves had directly or indirectly supported rival factions at one point or the other - asserted that a compromise formula had been evolved. They hoped that the compromise would make both the State unit and the Kalyan Singh Government effective instruments in the party's campaign to advance its cause, particularly in the Lok Sabha elections.

THE formula had two important elements. First, the dissidents would not persist with their demand for the replacement of the Chief Minister. It was stated clearly that the party would face the Lok Sabha polls with Kalyan Singh at the helm. However, Kalyan Singh would change his much-criticised "autocratic" style of functioning and consult Rajnath Singh and others while taking important decisions. Everything was fine with the party and the government, the BJP leadership claimed after the "unanimous" adoption of this formula.

But this confidence was proved hollow within two days, when a major crisis developed on May 7. Thirty-six MLAs of the party submitted to Thakre their letters of resignation, making it clear that they had not given up their campaign for Kalyan Singh's ouster. Many of them said that they would not follow in the footsteps of their "godfathers", who, they said, had "meekly surrendered" to the Chief Minister. The resignation, according to dissident leaders Sarjit Singh Dang, Rajesh Pandey and Devendra Singh Bhole, was aimed to force the central leadership to take "concrete action". The MLAs gave the leadership a week's time to respond to their demand.

Although the dissidents' public posture was that they would settle for nothing short of Kalyan Singh's replacement, they had reportedly advanced in private a compromise formula of their own. According to this formula, Kalyan Singh could continue as Chief Minister if he cancelled two appointments that he made recently - one, of his confidante Kusum Rai as Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board and the other, of Rajendra Tiwari as Chairman of the State Transport Corporation. The dissidents also demanded that "false criminal cases" registered against some of them be withdrawn. Thakre called Kalyan Singh and other leaders to Delhi for a discussion. Kalyan Singh, however, insisted that no appointments would be cancelled. There was, therefore, no chance of any reconciliation.

The stalemate forced the central leadership to launch yet another initiative, for which Advani was to visit Lucknow on May 16. It was announced that he would make a thorough study of the problems and try to devise a final solution during the visit. However, the announcement resulted in such sound and fury from both the Kalyan Singh group and the dissidents that the central leadership decided to cancel the trip and postpone the State executive meeting scheduled to be held during the visit. Instead, party general secretary K.N. Govindacharya was deputed to have discussions with State leaders in Lucknow on May 14. The discussions, however, made no headway.

The in-fighting actually escalated after Advani's visit was announced. Private meetings, public rallies and media interviews formed part of the no-holds-barred battle. A striking example of this was the propaganda offensive by Kalyan Singh loyalists that the dissidents' campaign was nothing but an upper-caste conspiracy to usurp power from a "Backward Caste" leader "who has led the party and the government diligently over the past one decade". In an apparent bid to drive home this point, Kalyan Singh loyalists organised a "swabhiman (self-respect) rally" of Backward Castes under the auspices of the Kashyap Chetana Mahasabha on May 16.

Wall writings and posters put up for the rally were provocative. One of these stated that those who try to oust Kalyan Singh would themselves be ousted by the Backward Castes loyal to Kalyan Singh - such as Kashyaps, Bhinds, Nishads, Majhis, Khagis and Kewars. The rally organisers claim that these communities account for more than 20 per cent of the State's population. Another poster likened Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra and Tandon to the Mahabharatha characters, Shakuni, Shikhandi and Duryodhana and warned that the trio would destroy the BJP in the State. The rally organisers have repeatedly called for the resignation of these persons from government and party positions.

On the other side, Kalraj Mishra, who had not come out openly in support of the dissidents earlier or criticised Kalyan Singh publicly, changed tack and launched an attack on the Chief Minister. Mishra told an English daily in an interview that his house was under surveillance and that the Chief Minister personally made efforts to fabricate links between him (Mishra) and the slain mafia don, Sree Prakash Shukla. Mishra wondered whether the State Home Department had hatched a conspiracy to malign him politically.

Dissident leader Rajesh Pandey, responding to the invidious publicity material of the Kashyap Chetana Mahasabha, asked the Chief Minister not to attend the rally. "If the Chief Minister chooses to attend the rally," Pandey said, "it would only mean that he agrees with the crude campaign unleashed against senior party leaders such as Tandon and Mishra." Kalyan Singh affirmed that he would not back out from his commitment to attend the rally.

Meanwhile, former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj and BJP national secretary Sangha Priya Gautam added to the confusion through certain remarks. Sushma Swaraj said in Lucknow that Kalyan Singh and Kusum Rai should keep their friendship at a more discreet level. Sangha Priya Gautam told the media in Chandigarh that Kalyan Singh had accepted a new five-point formula devised by the central leadership. The five points included cancellation of the appointments of Rai and Tewary, formation of a coordination committee consisting of representatives of the organisation and the government and withdrawal of cases filed against some dissident MLAs.

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Uttar Pradesh BJP president Rajnath Singh, and senior Ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra.

These remarks are perceived as being advantageous to the dissidents. Kalyan Singh repudiated Gautam's claim about the five-point formula. Although he desisted from responding to Swaraj's broadside openly, the Chief Minister reportedly expressed his displeasure in a letter to Thakre.

OBVIOUSLY, the State BJP is in no position to improve upon the party's tally of 57 seats from the State in the last Lok Sabha elections. The lack of cohesion in the State party has emboldened its allies such as the UPLC and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party (JBSP) to ask for a greater share of seats to contest this time - 10 seats each. Last year, together they got only five. The BJP, however, has some consolation that the secular Opposition is divided and the elections are still four months away. Many central leaders think that there is sufficient time before the elections to set the State unit in order.

However, not many people in the BJP are confident of the survival of the Kalyan Singh Government, for many of the dissidents have gone too far with their anti-Kalyan Singh activity and stand no chance of getting the ticket to contest the next Assembly elections. Many of them are, therefore, veering round to joining other parties. Dissident MLAs Devendra Singh Bhole, Ganga Singh Chauhan and Suman Lata Singh are already in touch with S.P. leader Amar Singh and some others with State Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid. According to sources in the dissident camp, 20 out of the 36 MLAs who have submitted their resignation letters to Thakre are all set to leave the BJP and strike a new path. It would be difficult for the BJP to make up the shortage of 20 MLAs and retain a majority in the Assembly. At present, the BJP has only a seven-vote majority.

This section of dissidents could join hands with the Opposition and strike at any point. With the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for September, many people in the State BJP expect this to happen after mid-June. Until then, the sabre-rattling will continue. It is possible that this realisation made Advani cancel his visit.

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