July 07, 2020
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Kalyan's Cup Of Woes

Trouble for the chief minister comes from within the BJP, with charges of unaccountability

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Kalyan's Cup Of Woes
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TO exercise power judiciously after it has been achieved is one of the lessons in realpolitik that the BJP and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh are learning fast. Less than a year after coming to power, the famed BJP discipline is in disarray. As if the BJP's troubles in Delhi were not enough, the ruling party has in-house problems in the country's most influential state which a couple of months ago sent 58 MPs to the Lok Sabha and forms the political backbone of the party. At the root of the problem is factionalism within the party, with OBC Kalyan ranged against the upper-caste Raj-nath Singh, Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra.

Indeed, there is enough heat being generated in the state BJP, with charges flying thick and fast, ranging from financial irregularities to legislator dissatisfaction with Kalyan Singh. In a lengthy chain of events, a lady corporator, Kusum Rai, has become the latest stick being used by disgruntled party legislators to get at the chief minister, with allegations that they have a special relationship.

Clearly, in a political organisation where discipline and unity have been the buzzword, new experiences show that the connection between ideology and mass politics could be quite remote. It does not always happen that senior party leaders opposed to Kalyan move around with well-documented dossiers on the chief minister right under his nose. Even rarer in the BJP, party legislators are going public on the state of affairs within the organisation.

Something that prompted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani to summon Kalyan Singh to Delhi to discuss the situation. While the chief minister maintained that he had just briefed the two leaders on the status of ongoing developmental projects in Uttar Pradesh, party sources say Singh was asked to pull up his socks and "get his act together". Earlier, an important rival of Kalyan, state unit president Rajnath Singh, who is also regarded as a key organisation man, met Vajpayee to inform him that the "party cadres were distressed" with the functioning of the chief minister and desperately wanted a change.

To be sure, the ticking off has had its effect. Says Uttar Pradesh urban development minister Lalji Tandon, another key state leader who is close to Vajpayee: "All that has happened in the BJP is a thing of the past. I will say no more because that is the need of the hour. We are all sad that such things have happened in the party." And Rajnath Singh told reporters in Ghazipur immediately after returning from Delhi that "there was no threat to the Kalyan government" and that he had a "clear understanding with the chief minister that he was not an aspirant for the seat".

But by all accounts, the truce is likely to be temporary. Too much water has flown down the Gomti since the BJP government took over last year. Kalyan has been accused of favouring Rai at the expense of the party; of keeping party members in the dark on day-to-day functioning; of neglecting the actual work of governance; and of promoting intra-caste feuds within the party.

The scenario hotted up considerably last fortnight when a premature CAG report surfaced in the media placing some blame for Mayawati's ill-fated but ambitious Ambedkar Park plan on Lalji Tandon's urban development department—the insinuation being that Tandon was closer to Mayawati than he was to his own party. While the minister maintained that he had not seen any such report, other than what had appeared in the papers, the only copy of the audit report was with Kalyan. Worse, it is alleged that the selective leak had left out charges against leaders regarded as close to the chief minister.

Even while all this was going on, Mayawati, otherwise in political hibernation, said she would wholeheartedly support "anyone who can rise like a Vaghela" in Uttar Pradesh. While that looks like a long shot, it gave an indication of the scheme of things to come.

In this political skirmish, party legislators are feeling extremely cheesed off and BJP leaders are quite aware what that could mean in the long run. Says BJP MLC Rajesh Pandey: "It is no good being a BJP legislator in UP. Can you assure anyone that work would be done? Is there anyone willing to listen to what we have to say? You cannot even transfer a policeman. We have no authority. No-one takes us seriously."

WHO then does Kalyan take seriously? This seems to be the biggest bone of contention. According to his critics, the chief minister has gone overboard in projecting the Lucknow-based Kusum Rai. In Lucknow, reports abound of her accompanying the chief minister on official trips and her meddling in large-scale transfer and postings (which some say exceed the reshuffles effected by Mayawati during her regime). Recently, five BJP legislators put in a memorandum against an executive engineer, whom the concerned minister sacked only to reinstate at the call of Kusum Rai. It is also alleged that during Rai's trips in the state, district magistrates have had to provide her official escort.

This has given much needed fodder to both the opposition and Kalyan's detractors within the BJP. Says state Samajwadi Party chief Ram Saran Das: "On the one hand, the law and order situation has deteriorated beyond compare. On the other, the chief minister seems blissfully unaware of what is going on." Adds BJP MLC Pandey: "No-one can meet the chief minister. Party cadres do not have access to him. We cannot get our own people appointed. The situation is precarious. My request to the party high command would be to accommodate Kalyan at the Centre, for the current situation will harm the party in the long run." Not everyone in the BJP agrees though, with Om Prakash Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha emphasising that dethroning Kalyan could harm the party's prospects.

 Meanwhile, well-placed sources say a section of the party is likely to oppose the reentry of Kalraj Mishra to the Vidhan Parishad. Mishra's second term ends on July 6 and this faction has already started arguing that "renomination leads to discontent in the party". Sources also say that Tandon, fearing a denial of renomination to the Vidhan Parishad for a third consecutive term, may contest the assembly bypolls from the Lucknow West seat. Earlier, irrigation minister Om Prakash Singh was disallowed more than two terms in the Parishad and had to contest from Chunar in Mirzapur.

Indications here suggest that Kalyan's move to investigate the Rs 100-crore Ambedkar Park when he took over may have already backfired. Meant to nail Mayawati, the report has opened up a pandora's box. According to political sources, while three government departments—urban development, irrigation and public works—were involved in the construction work, the preliminary report had indicted only the urban development department. Seizing the chance, Mayawati issued a press release in Lucknow saying that only ministers dealing with the three respective departments could be held responsible for withdrawing money from the contingency fund. Tandon reacted angrily that only the chief minister or the finance minister had the powers to withdraw and in this case the finance minister was Mayawati.

There is also growing resentment in the state that no backward MP had been accommodated in the Union cabinet despite the fact that the BJP's mobilisation among the OBCs in the state has been one of the biggest, albeit underplayed, success stories in Indian politics. For BJP supporters, therein lies the biggest fallout of the power struggle. They fear that such investigations could even get Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati together. With a nonexistent Congress looking on, it is a potential alliance the BJP could do well without.

Even Kalyan's rivals concede that he remains the BJP's best bet in the state. Notwithstanding the vitiated atmosphere, his personal reputation for financial integrity remains above board and that constitutes a big plus in his favour. Under siege, he, however, told Outlook that all charges against him were motivated: "This is character assassination of the highest order. I have known Kusum Rai's family for a long time. I have known her father, her brother. Since you cannot beat me with any other stick, use a hapless woman to launch campaigns."

But what of charges that she was interfering in the administration? "Tell me an instance where an interference has been established," he says. Declining to dwell further on the subject, Kalyan also denies that his style of functioning (which included a degree of arrogance) had upset party legislators. "My doors are always open. I have fixed times for legislators, MPs, MLAs, heads of public undertakings and party workers. All this is mischievous." Clearly the BJP central leadership has much thinking to do. They are trying to put a lid on the tale, but some of the mud is going to stick. In the forthcoming by-elections in the state, that is going to be one of the tests of the BJP state leadership. If they can put up a credible result, it would go a long way in consolidating Kalyan's position. If not, it could well be just the beginning of more troubles.

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