January 19, 2020
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'Secular' Triumph

The BJP's bid to form a government suffers another setback

'Secular' Triumph

UTTAR Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari seemed jubilant after the decisive defeat of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha by-elections last week. "I took a stand (against inviting the BJP to form a government in Uttar Pradesh) and the result speaks for itself," he said, implying that his decision to recommend President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh had been vindicated.

With the BJP’s defeat, chances of a popular government in Uttar Pradesh have receded even further. The party—having failed to muster majority support and losing all three seats in the Rajya Sabha—now cannot hope to pressurise Bhandari into inviting it to form the government. Meanwhile, the polls over, the victorious Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party Congress alliance seems to be coming apart. No sooner were the Rajya Sabha results announced than R.K. Chaudhry of the BSP and Congressman Pramod Tewari expressed their willingness to compromise with the SP on the issue of chief ministership. But BSP general secretary Mayawati wasted no time in informing Bhandari that her party’s alliance with the SP was limited to the Rajya Sabha polls, lest he invite Mulayam Singh Yadav to form the government.

The SP was equally aggressive in its posture. "There is no question of Mayawati becoming chief minister. How far should we compromise? With our support, the Janata Dal’s Wasim Ahmed, the BSP’s Dara Singh Chauhan and the Congress’ Khan Gufran Zahidi have won the Rajya Sabha elections. When it comes to seeking our support, we are not untouchables. But when it comes to our seeking support, we become politically untouchable," declared an SP leader.

It was pressure from CPI(M) leader H.K.S. Surjeet and the imperative of keeping the BJP out of power that had compelled Mulayam to extend his support to the BSP, Congress and JD nominees. But having sacrificed his own candidates for those of other parties, his advisers say the SP leader is in no mood to make further adjustments. "We don’t need to further prove our secular credentials," said SP General Secretary, Amar Singh.

At a meeting with SP MLAs in Lucknow, a day before the Rajya Sabha by-elections, Mulayam pointed out the irony of helping Kanshi Ram and Jitendra Prasada nominees to win even as they publicly heaped insults on him. Earlier, Kanshi Ram dubbed Mulayam a "goonda" in Aap ki Adalat on Zee TV. Mulayam was also upset with V.P. Singh for forcing the candidature of Wasim Ahmed.

Rationalising the latest setback, Kalyan Singh pointed out that the BJP had actually gained the support of some 18 MLAs. Its candidates garnered close to 200 votes, far in excess of its strength of 176 in an electoral college of 420. Singh emphasised that the BJP would not relinquish its claim to form the government.

Commenting on the cross-voting, CLP leader Pramod Tewari said: "The BJP spread the rumour that if it did not win, it would not be invited to form the government and the House would be dissolved. None of the MLAs want fresh elections, so the more gullible ones were convinced. They were voting for the membership of the House and not for the BJP." Bhandari, however, is emphatic that he’ll not recommend dissolution of the House.

Bhandari’s intentions become clear in the light of the raids reportedly organised by him on all guest-houses and hotels in Lucknow a day before polling took place. According to a Raj Bhawan source, large amounts of money would have changed hands (all three BJP nominees are wealthy), had Bhandari not done so. "The suitcases didn’t exchange hands as a result," the source added.

Meanwhile, neither the SP nor the BJP has given up hope of forming the government, by ‘breaking’ the Congress and the BSP. "The BSP legislators are no longer under guard and Congress MLAs have proved they are vulnerable because of the cross-voting," points out an SP leader. Tewari’s claim that "all 33" Congress MLAs voted en bloc has few takers.

And so, it’s back to square one for all parties involved, with negotiations being reopened on all fronts. "We’ll make concerted efforts to convince Mulayam and Mayawati to climb down from their stands so that a compromise candidate can be installed as chief minister, whether from the BSP or Congress," said a senior Congress leader. But for the moment, the MLAs are reconciled to another stint of President's rule.

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