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A Criminal Code For Survival

History-sheeters in the Kalyan cabinet mar the party's image

A Criminal Code For Survival

THE euphoria proved to be short-lived. Six days after winning the trust vote in the Lucknow assembly amidst large-scale violence, UP chief minister Kalyan Singh's credibility and tactics employed to cobble together a majority stood questioned. At the core of Kalyan's troubles is the 93-member jumbo cabinet he has set in place, studded as it is with ministers with a dubious past.

Not only is his cabinet the largest ever in independent India, but at least 17 members of Kalyan's team have a criminal background. In an obvious effort to reward all who voted in his favour, he seems to have chosen his ministers with a blindfold on. At the end of his first fortnight in office, Kalyan had lost whatever high ground he had gained by wresting the advantage from the BSP. Now his well-publicised promise—

"kanoon ka raj hoga, bhay mukta samaaj hoga" (the law will prevail without fear)—rings hollow.

The gigantic ministry is proving to be a jumbo embarrassment, with the value-based politics the BJP prides itself on taking a backseat. Even BJP supporters have been taken aback by the mad rush of the new ministers for cars and offices in Vidhan Bha-wan. At least 40 senior IAS officers were asked to make way for the ministers. Nameplates were yanked off by the chamchas of the new ministers. Files were thrown out. Even more shocking was Atal Behari Vaj-payee's justification of the induction of history-sheeters and criminals in the Cabinet, saying: "We have not given them tickets. They were already members of the House. So it will not affect the image of the BJP."

That serious differences have cropped up within the BJP became evident when dissidents did not hesitate to go on record against Kalyan. Their main grudge is that all defectors, 22 from the breakaway Loktantrik Congress, 12 from the BSP, three from the JD (Raja Ram group) and three independent MLAs, were accommodated in the cabinet while even some senior BJP MLAs were ignored.

And in the process, Kalyan himself has came out badly bruised, and senior BJP leaders admit that by inducting those with a shady past the BJP's image of a 'value-based' party has taken a battering. "How can we face anybody now? Earlier no one could raise an accusing finger at the party," says a BJP minister. A section of partymen feels that the BJP was better off with the BSP as in the changed circumstances it is bound to be seen as an anti-Dalit party.

The BJP realised a little late in the day that it had lost its claim of being the party with a difference. Kalyan's moves left it with no convincing answers to charges that it was "promoting criminals". In an attempt at damage control, the central leadership decided to appear in disagreement with Kalyan. Such was the dissent and criticism that Kal-yan postponed the contentious issue of distribution of portfolios twice. He rushed to Delhi on October 30 for consultations.

In fact, while Kalyan was still defending his decision, state BJP president Raj Nath Singh changed his line. He told

Outlook: "I am feeling burdened and my heart is heavy. But, for every major gain you have to pay a price." A weak attempt, say observers, to save his party's image.

The BJP's embarrassment is understandable. Among the new ministers are Harishankar Tiwari, a known mafia leader from Gorakhpur with 25 criminal cases against him, including nine murder cases, 10 attempts to murder and three cases of dacoity and kidnapping. Then there is Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, an independent from Kunda in Pratapgadh district who faces more than 10 criminal cases, including two for murder and three attempts to murder. Such is the terror of this local feudal lord that during the 1996 assembly poll no political party, except the BJP, dared oppose him. Ironically, Kalyan himself had then gone to Kunda and assured the people that "Kunda ka Gunda" would be uprooted.

 Prem Prakash Singh, another minister of state who defected from the BSP, is known as "the terror of Terai". He has 10 criminal cases against him, including two murders, two dacoities and three cases of attempt to murder. Amar Mani Tripathi, a Loktantrik Congress member, has 20 criminal cases which include seven cases of attempt to murder and two of murder. Other ministers of state facing murder charges are Rakesh Dhar Tripathi, Sri Ram Sonkar (both BJP), Vinay Pandey (LC) and Bhagwan Singh Shakya (BSP). Markandeya Chand, a BSP rebel, faces three cases of dacoity, one of murder and one attempt to murder. Another BSP defector, Sardar Singh, faces two cases of dacoity, two of attempt to murder and one of murder.

Meanwhile, Kalyan has also set into gear his plans to consolidate upper-caste votes. At the risk of antagonising the Dalits, he has come out openly against Mayawati and ordered a probe into the controversial projects finalised by her. These include the Rs 117-crore Ambedkar Udyan project and leasing out of 7,000 acres of state farms to individuals. But Mayawati is unruffled: "All the deals were finalised by BJP ministers who were incharge of the respective departments. So they will be in a soup." Herein lies the catch. The ministers for urban development and public works are Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra, respectively, both known to be Kalyan's adversaries in the party. Which has left observers wondering whether Kalyan has drawn a double-edged sword to finish off his opponents.

By all accounts, there are trying times ahead for the chief minister and the BJP. For, with Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and a wounded Sitaram Kesri waiting to strike and dissidence growing within the BJP, his troubles may have only just begun.

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