Uttar Pradesh has, over the past decade, been the BJPs crowning glory in the electoral arena, but ever since its drubbing at the hustings during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the only crown that the state has consistently placed on the saffron partys head is that of thorns.
Rather than forcing the party to sit up, take note and pull up its socks, its dismal poll performance last year has resulted in an ever-spiralling chaos, with chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta-widely perceived to be a lame-duck CM even within the BJP-presiding over a string of blunders.
And with assembly elections due in 2001, the no-change-of-chief minister, no mid-term-polls line taken by the BJP is being seen as an attempt by the party leadership not to make a bad situation worse till a viable plan is in place. For, the last thing that it wants to do is to contribute to the dissidents oust-Gupta campaign in Lucknow.
In the Capital on May 18 to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani and complain about the treatment being meted out to him, Gupta insists that his "government is stable and will last its full term". But even a cursory glance at the events of the past few weeks shows why the UP CM has been in and out of Delhi.
Over 50 MLAs of this "disciplined" party gheraoed the chief minister inside his chamber in the UP assembly for over two hours early last fortnight. They alleged that Gupta was "siding with the administration" by brushing aside their demand for transferring the principal secretary (home), the director general of police and SP, Fatehpur, who "misbehaved with a minister".
Later in the week came the "letter-bomb" from party MLC Ajit Singh, once a Kalyan Singh loyalist, alleging that a senior BJP minister in the state was conspiring to eliminate him. Sources close to Singh say that he sent the letter to the prime minister, the home minister and the President, stating that if "any harm is done to me the UP government will be wholly responsible for it". Though the letter doesnt name the minister, it evidently points towards senior leader Lalji Tandon who "blessed" Abhay Singh, lieutenant of controversial former BSP mla Mukhtar Ansari-who, the MLC says, "is a notorious gangster with whom my rivalry in political circles is well known"-when he was recently released from jail.
But the final blow came when the Centre included Hardwar in the bill for Uttaranchals creation. Furious legislators, both from the BJP and its allies in the state, squarely blame Gupta for having failed to convey to the central leadership the states sentiments on the issue. The legislators from the hills, meanwhile, are warning of dire consequences if Hardwar is not included in the new state. These developments, following close on heels of the BJPs cross-voting fiasco in the state during the recent Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad elections, has only reinforced the image of an indecisive leader under siege. Further credence has been lent to this by Guptas own foot-in-the-mouth syndrome: "I know who indulged in cross-voting but they cant be identified so no action can be taken."
Avers BJP mla Yashwant Singh Chauhan: "If a change in the leadership is what is required to refurbish the image of the party, so be it." With Kalyan Singh waiting in the wings and senior BJP leaders eyeing the CMs chair for themselves, the partys allies are getting even more restive.
The former UP BJP chief and now Union minister for surface transport, Rajnath Singh, conceded to Outlook that "such goings-on are very unfortunate. But all will come together to fight the elections". BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy, for his part, emphasises that "a change in the UP leadership or mid-term polls are not on our mind at the moment".
Says a senior leader: "Our experience with Sushma Swaraj in Delhi has shown that merely a change of chief ministers is not the answer and that may create more bad blood because there is certainly more than one candidate." One view is to try and rein in the dissidence and continue till the polls because by then the alliances will be clear. Though letting the current scenario drag on till the polls is not a plan which finds favour with many, Gupta is seen as Vajpayees man and thats ensured that nobody wants to say this on-record.
Sources say that behind-the-scenes moves for an alliance with the BSP have also begun. "It will save us the task of selecting a successor to Gupta because the CMs chair will have to go to Mayawati," says a leader from UP half in joke. The fact that the BJPs allies are already talking to Mulayam and Kalyan is also not lost on the leadership. Besides, Gupta himself reportedly counts only on 160 BJP MLAs as his own. The rest from within the BJP and its allies are "not even to be accounted for".
Partymen say, senior leaders like Vajpayee, Advani and M.M. Joshi, himself a long-time proponent of a BJP-BSP alliance to counter the growing OBC consolidation under Mulayam and Kalyan, are reported to have discussed this possibility in recent days, but the BSP, having reaped the benefits of its emerging Dalit-Muslim support in the 1999 polls, isnt too keen to bite the bait that has been put out.