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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

The UP Election

Thursday 31 May 2007, by Shree Shankar Sharan


The UP election verdict has stirred the nation as few things recently have. For one thing, it was wholly unexpected. Every political pundit or soothsayer worth his name had predicted a hung Assembly. Ms Mayawati romped home with an absolute majority. There was no major party that did not hear the distant roar of Mayawati’s approaching juggernaut. But each still wallowed in the comfort of its wishful thought that she will still need their support before she could form a government. Mayawati has proved that she needs none of them. The Samajwadi Party or even the Congress party were so certain of matching Mayawati’s numbers that they even toyed with the idea or hope that UP will need a spell of President’s Rule as it did in the past. But the BSP belied all such false hopes. The Governor, at best a bit player in a confused electoral situation, was left without a role.

There was a new factor which received much media hype, the Rahul Gandhi factor, of which much was expected by political novices of the once first family. But they simply overlooked the maturity of the UP electorate which had once, with Bihar, thrown the redoubtable Indira Gandhi and her feared son, Sanjay Gandhi, out of power when they had a reason to rebuff her for her 1975 Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi’s confidence was that the UP voter would stand by the family regardless of its deeds, by the sheer aura that the family wore. This seemed comparable to Rahul’s pride in the incomparability and awesome acceptability his family has and that’s been truly and mercilessly rebuffed. To be fair to Rahul, his appeal to the voter was entirely democratic, had none of the brashness of Sanjay and his family pride, justifiable by comparison with the record of later regimes.

What he overlooked was that none of the Nehrus ever ruled UP. In its golden days UP was ruled by Govind Ballabh Pant and Sampurnanand, and after a period of decline under C.B. Gupta, had the formidable Charan Singh, the unfailing champion of kisans at its helm. Indira Gandhi had no role in UP as the Congress President in the life-time of Jawaharlal Nehru nor was she ever the President of the UP Congress nor its supreme leader. For a long time Nehru uncomplainingly held the office of the Vice-President of the UPCC.

Nor did the AICC start from Swaraj Bhawan in Allahabad. It was from there that Mahatma Gandhi’s first successful satyagraha after South Africa was launched against the exploitative teen katiya system of the English indigo farmers, of great national fame and where he was closest to the brave, but humble leaders from Bihar, Braj Kishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Babu, Shambhu Sharan, etc., a team of eminent lawyers from Patna to assist him in his inquiry. Besides them were Mazahar UI Haque who donated the Sadaquat Ashram to the national movement and Hasan Imam, a one-time Congress President who differed with Gandhi on non-cooperation. It was only later that Gandhi got to know the more glamorous leaders from UP through Motilal Nehru, already a Congress leader.

It is to the credit of UP that once Gandhi’s campaign for the country’s freedom picked up, the people of UP joined it in hoardes. There were so many of them with matching political capability and so many of them had rubbed shoulders with Jawaharlal that the latter did not seem as tall as he did in other parts of India.

UP has held its head high at all times with national leaders. That and not this family or that should be a cause of pride to a young and promising leader like Rahul Gandhi.

Why has UP gone the way it has? After it deserted the Congress it has equally mercilessly abandoned the BJP. Is it to do with Mandal as the BJP imagines to counter which it evolved Kamandal? The trouble with the BJP is it is simplistic both in its prognosis and its prescription. The craving of the voters in UP or anywhere else is deeper than that. Or is it that the voter continues to be duped by the slogans of caste or religion and only needs a course of political education as the Congress party fondly believes through a suitably energised party organisation?

What does the voter in UP or Bihar or India seek more than other things? The voter seeks dignity which his past and present reality denies him. He also seeks alleviation of poverty which he goes long distances to achieve and does so only partially by only some of the poor.

The search for dignity made him join the freedom movement, made them revere Mahatma Gandhi, made them staunch votaries of the Congress party which won them freedom. The votes of the poor, the Scheduled Castes, the OBCs, the landless labour etc. invariably went to the Congress party. For a time the bond between them and the Congress was stable and strong much to the dismay of the Left parties, whose talk of class war did not impress the Indian electorate, who preferred the Congress style of putting things in a larger, national and more moral perspective. But the reverie broke with the second generation of Congress leaders who themselves got afflicted with moral and ideological decay and became a convert to ideological pragmatism.

In 1967 a strategy of uniting the Opposition votes, evolved by the famous Socialist leader Ram- manohar Lohia, worked and the Congress was thrown out of power in Bihar and UP and much of north India. But United Front governments, rainbow coalitions from the Right, to the Centre to the Left, did not break much new ground except to announce a new policy of reservation for the OBCs in government jobs. In Bihar a small quota of reservation was also added for the economically weak upper caste and for women under the Karpoori Thakur formula. But it did not change the lot of the poor, the unemployed or the landless or the slum dwellers. Governments continued to govern spasmodically, without a visible presence or impact among the people or the poor with the same old, tired or corrupt bureaucratic machinery, with a new dimension of corruption added for political representatives. The way corruption has been embraced by political persons of all hues has been the most remarkable phenomenon of post- Nehru and Shastri politics and the biggest cause of people’s alienation with ideological politics. Leaders who swore by ideology were either unwilling or unfit to govern.

There was a brief interlude in 1971 when after winning the 1971 war and after winning a massive majority on her slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ Indira Gandhi appeared like a national saviour. Her policy of nationalising private banks, of abolishing privy purses of princes and integrating Sikkim with India, friendship treaty with the USSR seemed heady and brought her into a close compact with Communists. But her twenty-point programme came in the middle of her Emergency and its excesses and pitched against JP’s Janata Party she lost power and Prime Ministership. An angel seems to have fallen from her high pedestal.

The failure of the Socialists or coalition governments engineered by them to raise governance to a higher level than the more Centrist parties like the Congress has been one of most important causes of pushing people closer to identity politics. After giving up active politics as far back as 1952, with perhaps a vague sense of the shape of things to come, as they had penetrated his own Socialist Party, Jaya Prakash Narayan, one of the tallest among Socialists, made a gallant effort to break away from more passive activities like Bhoodan and Sarvodaya, to which movements he remained attached, to start a people’s movement he called the Total Revolution-against corruption, unemployment, price rise and revamping education in Bihar in 1974. He received a most magnificient and massive response from youth all over the country. The youth seemed electrified and took oath to lead a more moral and committed life in the service of the poor.

Indira Gandhi unfortunately turned the movement into an electoral challenge rather than to her capability to govern more effectively. She lost massively and a Janata Party Government was, for the first time, installed at the Centre. And there under the Prime Ministership of arch conservative Morarji Desai, who was the only acceptable name for the PM’s office in the party, all idealism was dead. The country was sunk in routine governance with rare flashes of new times. JP was on deathbed from his collapsed kidneys he developed in prison in Chandigarh during the Emergency, and could do nothing to restore ideological fare to the party. A rare hope born in the country died still born.

Rammanohar Lohia, a brilliant Socialist and all his life a party builder, was the country’s other hope. He was from UP and had built around himself a very large cadre of young admirers and followers. In his own wisdom he believed that caste and class in India were so intertwined you could not overlook caste to launch and fight a class war. He, therefore, gave a slogan of affirmative action of 60 per cent reservation of all government jobs for the socially and educationally backward, the OBCs. He was the father wily nily of the Mandal movement that overtook the country under V.P. Singh in 1989 rather than the men who picked it from him and enacted it.

Mandal gave a new style and flavour to Indian politics. It threw up and promoted rabid casteist leaders of the OBCs, otherwise unlikely candidates, to lead the party or government to unassailable positions, to head State governments in Bihar, UP and elsewhere. These politicians had either been in the JP movement or Charan Singh’s Lok Dal though in the back rows because of their lack of leadership quality. The new OBC leader in the Janata Dal, founded by V.P. Singh, was Devi Lal who had no qualms like the old stalwarts and helped Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP to rise to Chief Ministership of the two States on the strength of the preponderance of Yadavs for party tickets who won the elections. To be fair, Mulayam Singh was the more ideological of the two; though he had other infirmities of character which in a measure he shared with Laloo Yadav.

He was not politically illiterate or amoral as Laloo Yadav, who once said he did not need development to win elections (though not wanting in self-serving political cunning), nor has his government lacked dynamism or developmental initiatives. There has been a rapid growth in educational institutions in UP in his regime. In contrast to Bihar, the infrastructure has been better maintained and several initiatives taken to attract industrial investment. To a point he also tried to balance his bias for the OBCs with an inclusive policy to co-opt the reputed upper castes like Anil Ambani or Amitabh Bachchan and more controversially Amar Singh and has been strongly protective of the minorities.

However, he has been soft in dealing with two glaring problems of UP, of corruption and crime and that has brought his nemesis. Mulayam’s open accommodation of corruption or corrupt bureaucrats was unpardonable even though corruption seems to have become an accepted norm in politics and seeped to the higher bureaucracy. The problem has to be fought in the nation’s interest even at the cost of your own. Mulayam, with all his unquestionable secularism and credibility among minorities, tripped up there.

Corruption also has an unholy ally in crime. Leaders of crime, mafia dons are also big political donors besides vote-gatherers and try to attach themselves to every party in power and naturally enough got close to Mulayam and unlike old times were not rebuffed. In his second term he did try to distance himself from the more notorious like D.P. Yadav, but did not risk it with minority community dons quite like Laloo Yadav in Bihar. Both Shahabuddin and Mukhtar Ansari have been major liabilities of their respective OBC leader. Corruption beyond a point disrupts all development and hampers civilised existence which can cause public rage as it did in Bihar and less so in UP.

I would also in passing like to mention different attitudes to crime between the haves and the affluent and the have nots or the deprived. Petty crime is not unknown among the latter nor is it so severely frowned upon. Those who appeared criminals to the haves did not seem so black to the have-nots, sometimes only as rebels to the established order. The OBC leaders’ softness on crime has to be seen in this larger perspective and will take time to be cured.

Mayawati’s campaign against crime as the reason for her expanded support base has something to do with the Scheduled Castes invariably being at the receiving end of crime, though there are castes among Dalits who historically are not averse to crime and will present a problem to her as well.

The OBC rule has had its euphoria and its heartbreaks and has suffered a setback because of their own follies, of either lack of social balance as in Bihar, symbolised by slogans like Bhura Bal (Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and Lalas as candidates for elimination) or excessive reliance on vote-bank politics of MY (Muslims and Yadavs) some of which was bound sooner or later to break up as it did in Bihar by the extremely backward castes voting for Nitish rather than Laloo as did the backward Muslims.

Even Mayawati to achieve her victory has had to revise her slogan of “tilak, taraju aur talwar inko maro jute char” to “Hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai”. With a very shrewd political instinct she worked out a coalition between Dalits and Brahmins she hurled abuses at till the other day as the architects of manuwadi culture. Mayawati’s splendid victory is due to a maturer handling of the complex Indian social situation in which no caste singly can win power, nor retain power simply with the support of minorities. Her attempted social revolution has a better chance to succeed by co-opting other castes and by turning yesterday’s foes into today’s friends. The upper caste in the past has led social changes and co-opting them can be full of political dividends provided the leadership is firmly in Dalit hands. The thing to remember will be that the deprived not only want a share of power but also a share of the development cake and a little lowering of deprivation till it is wiped out.

Mayawati has understood the dynamics of democracy where numbers will finally prevail and the most deprived will win power better than the other contenders like the BJP or the OBC-led parties who all stood for sectional interest, howsoever well deserved but always at the cost of someone else. She had some of the all inclusive vision of the founders of the freedom movement or the fathers of social reform in India in worse times than now.

She deserved to win the way she has and will stay provided she avoids the pitfalls of her predecessors, leads the State along a steady development course and stays above vindictiveness and does not undo the good work they may have done, like giving unemployment doles.

The author is the President, Awami Manch, Patna/Delhi.

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