THE Centres intentions in Uttar Pradesh have become clear with Governor Romesh Bhandari posting his favourite bureaucrats in key positionsindicating that he is likely to continue to rule the state which has been beset by a hung assembly. The United Front (UF) Government seems more than willing to extend Presidents rule as that alone would deny the BJP, the single largest party in the state assembly, from being invited to form a government.
But all this has done is give the BJP an excuse to take to the streets in protest against the Centres move. On November 18, BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee led a party delegation to President Shankar Dayal Sharma, demanding Bhandaris dismissal as he had shown utter contempt for parliamentary conventions and the spirit of the Constitution. The party also stalled parliamentary proceedings for days, demanding the governors recall. Says Vajpayee: "Stalling House business is now an accepted mode of protest. We have adopted the extreme step because the governor, backed by the Centre, has shown a dictatorial attitude."
The BJP has already secured a moral victory as one of the two Allahabad High Court judges hearing a petition on the Uttar Pradesh stalemate ordered the governor to invite the party to form a government within three days. But the petition has now been transferred to a larger bench as the other judge differed and justified the governors decision on the plea that he was yet to be convinced about how any party would procure the requisite support in the state assembly.
In fact, the BJP was far from confident of demonstrating a majority in the event of getting the invitation, but the denial has certainly given the party a much needed halo of martyrdom. So much so that the unanimous decision taken to organise a nationwide agitation, including a jail bharo campaign, for a fortnight from December 1 also helped the partys three-day National Executive meet at Jaipur push intra-party differences under the carpet.
For, there was much anxiety over the partys poor electoral performance in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls, especially in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region. With Karan Singh joining hands with the National Conference, the BJPs Hindu support base stands sorely diluted.
Also, what now remains in Gujarat is only the technical battle over the fact that the governor did not notify the dismissal of the BJP ministry when he revoked the suspension of the assembly. Shankersinh Vaghelas majority in the House has only exposed the BJPs dwindling strength in the assembly, if not among the masses. "We will stage dharnas and demonstrations all over. It will be impossible for the deserters to go back to their voters," was deposed chief minister Suresh Mehtas strategy. "The only course now left is fresh polls." But the respect that Singh commands among Hindutva supporters even outside Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps more cause for concern in the BJP than the loss of the Gujarat government. Although the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)and its Dharam Sansadhas decided to rake up the Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya issues in its Delhi meet, parallel to the Jaipur meet, the BJP refrained from mentioning Hindutva.
Instead, the party tried to project a moderate image, giving an impression that Kashi and Mathura were the VHPs domain, by more or less identifying the party with the controversial theory of "social engineering". The strategy, still at a formative stage, would mean promoting socio-educationally backward and oppressed sections of society as a "must for social harmony". If this is implemented, the party would not be so dependent on its traditional Brahmin-Bania base and could instead lure UF and BSP supporters. This would also lead to structural changes in the BJP organisation in terms of the composition of the leadership and next years elections for a new party president. So, overall the Centres move in Uttar Pradesh seems to have done the BJP more good than harm. The authoritarianism label that the BJP wants to hurl at the UF could stick if the Assembly is dissolved. And though Congress President Sitaram Kesri was at last able to bring the UF, BSP and Congress together in the elections to the Rajya Sabha from the state, it is still doubtful whether the three will agree to form a government. If they do not offer an alternative to the BJP and insist on extending Central rule rather than inviting the single largest party it would hand the BJP a victory even in its defeat.