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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 24

Getting Ready for Lok Sabha Poll

Saturday 2 June 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The dramatic change-over of the govern-ment in the Uttar Pradesh marks a veritable turning-point in our present-day politics. The ouster of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the installation of Mayawati in his place heralds the beginning of the season of preparations for the Lok Sabha poll. The whole episode—which was in the nature of a coup—reflects the moves and counter-moves on the part of all the major parties in the coming parliamentary elections. If the breaking up of the SP-BSP alliance and the prompt move of the BJP to back Mayawati marks the crowning of the not-so-hidden efforts on the part of the BJP leadership, the timing and the content of the Governor’s decisions indicate the alertness with which the Centre—that is the Prime Minister—was trying to gain the upper hand throughout the crisis in Lucknow. In fact, this has been refreshingly prompt in contrast with the protracted dithering which has come to be known as the Prime Minister’s traditional style.

What was Kanshi Ram’s urgency to break with Mulayam Singh after having stood by him through the Uttarakhand storm? For the Lok Sabha poll, Mulayam’s record of high-handedness in administration would certainly be a minus point, and the BSP had no desire to pay the price for its SP ally’s record. Rumblings were growing louder and then the point of difference was sharpened when Mulayam began hedging the question of discussing seat distribution between the two parties for the Lok Sabha poll. It was at that point that Kanshi Ram, with his wide connections in practically every camp, began seriously to look round for new allies: his objective was two-fold—who will install the BSP as the government in UP, and provide an opening for bargaining for the Lok Sabha poll? Which means there is no obligation that the new alliance will ensure the two parties to the deal sticking on through the Lok Sabha poll battle. In other words, both parties to the deal have agreed to run a home without the formality of even a marriage of convenience. Nothing to lose therefore for Kanshi Ram (as he can negotiate even with the Congress, if need be, for an electoral understanding for the Lok Sabha poll) and immediately a lot to gain by having a State Government at the disposal of the BSP.

What does the BJP gain by striking this deal with the BSP, which Advani has very magnanimously described as a “gentlemen’s agreement”? For one thing, it will save it from the single-minded torments of Mulayam against the BJP. That would have made it impossible for it to regroup its forces for the Lok Sabha poll battle. Secondly, by backing the BSP Government without actually joining it, the BJP can very well expect to utilise the advantage of a ruling party without having to bear its liabilities—the sort of advantage Rajiv Gandhi sought to exploit by backing Chandra Shekhar’s short-lived tenure as the Prime Minister in 1990-91. Thirdly, a section of the BJP leadership has drawn the correct lesson from their last tenure in office, that is, in the public mind it is regarded as the party of the upper castes, and thereby it loses the votes of the backwards and Scheduled Castes. Kalyan Singh, more than anybody else in the BJP leadership, felt it this way, and he was one of the architects of the present BJP-BSP entente.

No doubt, the BJP leadership has to take risks in this deal. For one thing, Mayawati is no Chandra Shekhar. She has a party behind her which extends beyond the borders of UP and therefore can get out of the BJP’s leash. Secondly, the orthodox and militant elements in the Sangh Parivar, particularly the BJP’s fiery fellow-travellers like the Viswa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, would hardly relish being branded as Kanshi Ram bhakts instead of being Ram bhakts. Thirdly, the BJP leadership would have to reckon with the charge not only from its critics but fellow-travellers as well of having indulged in opportunism by ganging up with the same Dalit brigades which have never spared to attack its brand of Hindutva. Lastly, is there any guarantee that Kanshi Ram’s party would at all permit its Ram temple campaign any more than Mulayam Singh?

What are the expectations of the Congress leadership from such a fall-out of the coup against Mulayam Singh? By not letting the Governor prolong the uncertainty of a replacement Ministry at Lucknow, the central leadership of the Congress escaped from the blame of spawning defections from the BSP to help Mulayam continue in office. Secondly, by the installation of Mayawati as the Chief Minister without delay, the Congress leadership has cleared the decks for a rapport with the BSP Government—note the warm felicitations sent to her by the Prime Minister immediately after her swearing-in. The prospect of a Congress understanding with the BSP before the Lok Sabha poll need not be underestimated. As for the BJP, the back-seat driving in the UP may cost its popularity, which the Congress can exploit. Lastly, the very fact that the Centre did not hesitate to let the Governor sack Mulayam Singh can be an opening to Narain Dutt Tiwari to come back to the Narasimha Congress fold, leaving Arjun Singh in lonely isolation.

It’s indeed going to be a high summer with high stakes—both at the national level as much as at the level of electoral calculations.

(Mainstream June 10, 1995)

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