August 10, 2020
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Bjp Stunned On Homeground

The saffron brigade suffers a setback at the hustings, and promptly blames it on Kalyan Singh’s pre-poll manoeuvres

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Bjp Stunned On Homeground

ON October 9, as counting of votes began in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, the administration clamped prohibitory orders in and around the state capital Lucknow. The reason: a victory procession by one party may provoke rivals to retaliate and lead to violence. But in the final tally for the 425-member state assembly, the mandate was in favour of a hung assembly—no party had won a clear verdict, there was little for any party to celebrate.

The BJP emerged the single largest party with 174 seats in the kitty—in 1991, it had won 221 seats and in 1993, 177 seats—and its poor showing is attributed to various reasons. Many in the party blame Kalyan Singh for the worse-than-expected outcome. His poll-eve tactics were definitely at fault—Kalyan Singh was given near-autonomy in selection of candidates but he refused tickets to 46 sitting MLAs; and of the 130 he cleared for renomination, only 23 won. The party’s vote percentage fell to 32 per cent from 34.5 per cent in the last polls; it suffered reverses in central Uttar Pradesh and made marginal gains in the east and west.

The hero of 1993, mascot of the BJP’s cultural nationalism, is now being branded a villain by upper-caste Hindus, the party’s traditional vote base. They feel the BJP lost out because Kalyan Singh handed out a majority of tickets to the Other Backward Classes and Dalits, votebank of Mulayam and Kanshi Ram respectively. The outcome, in a way, also rejected the possibility of Kalyan Singh becoming chief minister—he had been projected as a potential candidate in the run-up to the polls.

Many party stalwarts prefer supporting Mayawati as chief minister to the BJP forming a minority government. Even Kalyan Singh is now apparently reconciled to the fact that his chief ministerial aspirations have been grounded for the second time in three years. In the November 1993 elections, held 11 months after the Babri demolition, the BJP failed to get a majority, and the governor invited the BSP-Samajwadi Party (SP) combine to form the government with Congress support.

This time, early trends itself indicated that the party would not get an absolute majority. As if on cue, the optimistic bunch of supporters in the party’s state headquarters on Vidhan Sabha Marg gradually thinned. And leaders took their place to ponder over the next move—it could either explore possibilities of forming the government, stay a coalition partner, extend support to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from outside or sit in the Opposition.

On October 11, Kalyan Singh was elected the party’s legislative party leader. "I have not yet withdrawn my claim," he said soon after. But he refused to be drawn into any talk about whether he was going to stake his claim before Governor Romesh Bhandari. According to Raj Bhavan sources, "as a matter of rule and convention, the governor’s action or invitation follows scrutiny of formal claims from different parties in the event of a hung assembly." The short-lived Delhi experience has obviously prevented the BJP from taking any drastic measures. The party didn’t want a repetition of A.B. Vajpayee’s fate in Uttar Pradesh—collapse of the government in less than a month in want of majority on the floor of the House. So the best option is to make the best of the hostility between Mayawati and Mula-yam—allow her to form the government with outside support and isolate Mulayam, a common foe. "We have kept all our options open. We are not going to decide anything in a hurry," said former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was overseeing the post-poll scenario.

Despite its decline in terms of the number of seats and vote percentage, the BJP regained the support of upper-caste Hindus in the hill districts—it won 18 of the 19 seats in the Garhwal Kumaon region. Elsewhere, an approximately 52 per cent of the most backward classes voted for the BJP. The argument was: by supporting the BSP government and breaking the Congress-BSP alliance, the BJP will also check the possible alliance of a section of caste Hindus and Dalits which would have otherwise damaged BJP interests.

At the same time, the BJP can always wean away the upper-caste and most backward caste legislators from the other parties to carve out a majority on its own. But the party would definitely not want another election in quick succession because the BJP votebank has remained stagnant and may not help it to garner a majority. Also, after the party has more or less given up the Ayodhya temple plank, it seems devoid of an issue as powerful and appealing to potential voters. And more than anything else, the BJP needs a durable ideology.

In a parallel development, the BSP elected Mayawati as its leader in the assembly, and party supremo Kanshi Ram declared in Delhi that he had asked her to be prepared to take the oath as chief minister.

Numbers don’t favour Mayawati as the BSP with 67, and the Congress with 33, have got only 100 seats together. Nor does Mulayam seem to be willing to accept her as chief minister given her vilification campaign against the SP leader. "Mulayam is willing to make any sacrifice except accepting her as leader," said a senior SP functionary. In this endeavour, Mulayam has the blessings of the CPI(M) General Secretary H.K.S. Surjeet who is supporting his move for a non-BJP chief minister other than Mayawati. But Kanshi Ram is equally adamant in his favour of Mayawati—and is even willing to take the BJP’s help to accomplish the mission.

In a way, Kanshi Ram has laid his cards on the table. But his willingness to accept BJP support shows signs of cracks in the nearly four-month-old alliance with the Congress. Says a BSP leader: "We have not particularly benefited by the alliance with the Congress. Instead, it was a one-way traffic with the Congress failing to transfer its votes in favour of the BSP." Even Congress President Sitaram Kesri made efforts to get the United Front to support Mayawati so that a secular government could come to power. But given the fact that of 134 UF MLAs, 110 belong to the SP, the key player is Mulayam. And at least, he can easily veto Mayawati who had projected him as a "goonda" all through her campaign and showed no signs of truce.

The UF stand upstages the Congress’ dream of being a partner in the government of India’s largest state which, it thought, would help the party’s revival. This explains Kesri’s effort to persuade Mulayam to give up his strident anti-Mayawati stand. "Let it be some Congressman, I will support him. I am not a candidate myself," Mulayam told Kesri. Mulayam’s plea is that he stands for a secular government in Uttar Pradesh but cannot accept Mayawati: "those hobnobbing with the BJP should not be the leader of the secular combination." Kesri held many meetings with Surjeet, who also feels that Mayawati’s secular credentials are doubtful. But all the hectic lobbying in favour of a second anointment of Mayawati may marginalise Surjeet’s views. And since Mulayam will not support Mayawati at any cost, and Kanshi Ram will not have anyone else, the BJP can gain maximum mileage out of the situation—have a say in the government sans an absolute majority. In the process, stall the UF and break up the Congress-BSP alliance. 

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