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Downhill in UP - Mid-day

Saeed Naqvi ()
13 November 1996

Title : Downhill in UP
Author : Saeed Naqvi
Publication : Mid-day
Date : November 13, 1996

Uttar Pradesh Congress President Jitendra Prasad gave the
game away the other day when, just before leaving for
Lucknow, he said: "No one will form the government;
governor's rule will continue." Since the governor is now
denying that he will call the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP), did Prasad have some inside information?

Everyone knows the governor cannot continue because
Parliament meets from November 20 and something has to be
done in UP before that date.

Unless, of course, he meant another spell of governor's
rule after Parliament session.

But why was Prasad so anxious to avert government forma-
tion in UP? The simple explanation is that he is afraid
some of his legislators may be tempted to cross over to
augment the BJP's tally.

And if 11 of his 33 legislators attach themselves to the
BJP in a power-sharing operation, why would the remaining
22 stay behind?

As for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), it interprets
democracy in ways which are exclusive to itself - bash up
the journalists and lock up legislators.

All the BSP legislators have been confined to a building
in Lucknow so they can be insulated from allurements of
money and office that the BJP may have to offer to muster
up a simple majority.

It is possible that these people's representatives will
be ferried to the House in cages, but once in they can
surely be contacted.

In other words, the BJP is banking on defections from
both the Congress and the BSP Independents are another
resource it can fall back on.

Once these champions of secularism share power with the
BJP, who stands to gain?

Well, in the short term, the BJP, of course. It will
instantly plant its Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS)
cadres in such obscure locations as the village and
district apparatus of the primary education department,
for instance.

The BJP can also be easily provoked into taking up Ayod-
hya, Mathura, Kashi as issues for greater Hindu consoli-

But once the party has embarked on this course, the
entire secular field is left wide open for Samajwadi
Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav to improve on his

already substantial gains.

It is a truth not many friends in the media enjoy repeat-
ing, that in the recent elections in UP there is only one
politician who emerged with his stature enhanced - Yadav.
He fought the BJP, BSP-Congress, and negotiated the
machinations of the Janata Dal and yet came up trumps.

In the next round of elections, he will be the only
leader on a secular platform which is plausible (the Left
parties are totally with him), weaving a coalition of
minorities, OBCS, Thakurs and, thanks to Phoolan Devi,
even lower castes like the Mallahs or boatmen.

It will not be possible for political parties to create
an anti-communal platform even elsewhere in the country
without an invitation to Yadav.

But Jitendra Prasad must be given the benefit of doubt.
He says his group in the Assembly will not defect to the
BJP. Nor, he says, will Kanshi Ram.

If what the state Congress chief says is true and the BJP
is not able to prove its majority, the governor will have
to invite the leader of the second largest group, Yadav,
who is already claiming a majority.

Should Yadav be invited to form the government, it will
devolve on the BSP-Congress to vote with the BJP in order
to defeat him.

Either way, it seems unlikely that the BSP-Congress
alliance will be able to escape the odium of being seen
with the BJP or at least preferring it to the SP.

But this line of reasoning completely ignores the dramat-
ic emergence of Sitaram Kesri as a key player in the
nation's public life.

After all, Kesri's credentials as a champion of the
downtrodden and the minorities are in no way less impres-
sive than Yadav's.

In fact, anyone who watched Kesri's performance as the
social welfare minister in the previous government would
testify to his impeccably secular image, even opposed to
the sterile casteism of some of his admirers like Laloo
Prasad Yadav.

Why would Kesri acquiesce in the party he leads being
seen, in association with the BSP, to be inclined towards
the BJP when, in essence, Kesri and Mulayam Singh Yadav
are natural allies?

First, the weak Congress in UP is a residue of the Brah-
min-dominated party which, since Independence, ruled the
state as well as the country. In its present state, it
is no asset to Kesri's vision of what the party ought to

In the recent UP elections, in about 300 seats, Brahmin-
led consolidation took place totally in favour of the

It is, therefore, only a matter of time before the resid-
ual Congress blends with the BJP in the state, a develop-

ment which might have a moderating influence on the BJP
in the long run. But much the most important reason why
Kesri cannot distance himself from the BSP abruptly is
because he has noticed one singular fact abut the BSP
votebank: Kanshi Ram can at will transfer the Dalit vote
in favour of the Congress or any party of his choice.

Had this not happened in UP, the Congress tally might not
have crossed double figures.

This Dalit vote will be urgently required by Kesri for
elections in Punjab in February.

Moreover, Digvijay Singh in Bhopal has nightmares should
Kanshi Ram threaten to switch against him.

Kesri's equation with the BSP is tactical.

With Mulayam Singh Yadav he has a long-term partnership
in view, something which was obliquely touched upon when
Yadav called on him for two hours last week - a meeting
many thought would not be possible against their public
stance of mutual hostility.

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