Amidst the pre-election political heat in UP

IN THE backdrop of hectic pre-poll political activities in UP, Advani recently visited the state capital, ostensibly to attend a joint meeting of old JanSanghis and new BJP-wallahs, the socalled Sahyatri Sammelan (Co-travellers’ meet). However, conscious of the popular disillusionment about the all-round failure of the governments of Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh, he tried to make use of the visit to sell his jingoistic line by harping on his pet themes of “crossborder terrorism” and “proxy war”. However, in the process, he also had to make an extraordinary and “unpleasant” admission that all elections in Kashmir so far, barring the one during Morarji’s period, were rigged. To cover up his own political failure in Kashmir, he came up with the bizarre logic that it was during his tenure that the highest number of “terrorists” had been killed. Responding to the long-standing demand of the state BJP leadership, he even hinted at banning the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), probably on the eve of the UP elections, to reap maximum communal political harvest. Heaping wholesome praise on Rajnath’s police-mafia state presided over by a pack of criminals and his election-oriented populist gimmicks, Advani also delivered sermons to his party workers on morals, asking them to give priority to credibility rather than ‘winnability’. Waxing eloquent on morality in politics, he said that running a government was not as important as defending moral values. Only, his advice came too late in the day, when the writing on the wall for the Rajnath government was loud and clear. However, his bluff was called right there when an alert scribe challenged his hypocrisy questioning as to why the BJP had formed government with the help of deserters and legislators with a criminal background. Caught off guard, Advani came up with an even more bizarre logic that it was done to counter the Congress charge that the BJP was not capable of running governments for a full term!

It seems Advani’s Lucknow visit has more to it than meets the eye. With Vajpayee’s stocks fast plummeting, there seems to be a conscious effort by the Sangh Parivar, and Advani himself, to build up his personal image and credibility. Advani’s making explicit his differences with Vajpayee even on crucial issues like Tehelka and the Agra Summit, is a pointer to this. According to newspaper reports in Lucknow that quote BJP sources, Advani and not Vajpayee will be the main campaigner in the coming assembly elections. This has been necessitated by the political, rather than physical, illness of Vajpayee.

The BJP in UP is working on a two-pronged strategy. Rajnath, on the one had, is trying to woo various sections of people, especially certain targeted social segments, through his populist declarations, and, on the other hand, is creating communal tension and whipping up jingoistic frenzy to divert mass disgruntlement and bring back the Hindu polarisation. Besides his sops for government employees, teachers, peasants, unemployed youth and students, his announcement regarding compartmentalised and exclusive reservation for most backward castes (MBCs) is being projected as his masterstroke. It is true that Rajnath’s MBC card has put Mulayam and Mayawati on the defensive. Unlike in Bihar, where the Karpoori Thakur formula was implemented long back, Mulayam and Mayawati had never bothered to address the issue here. In the absence of any other democratic agenda put forth by them, Rajnath’s offensive on their own terrain of “social justice” has made the SP and BSP jittery. Mulayam initially pooh-poohed it as a non-issue and decried it as a divisive tactic of the BJP. Later, demanding an increase in reservation for all the OBCs in proportion to their population, he planned a big show on August 9 named Kisan Jawan Sangharsh Diwas (Peasant-Youth Struggle Day). The programme was unimpressive and failed to elicit popular support. Later, Mulayam made a volte-face and appealed to the Yadavs to make sacrifices for the MBCs. Meanwhile, he also tried to make forays into the Kurmi base, a dominant OBC community opposed to the MBC quota.

Mayawati, having a greater stake in MBC votes, tried to project herself as an ardent supporter of MBC reservation, though not without some initial vacillation. Subsequently, even the expulsion of two party stalwarts, RK Choudhary and BR Verma, was projected as a solidarity gesture with the MBC cause as these leaders were portrayed to be opponents of the MBC reservation. She also organised district rallies of considerable size on July 20.

However, much of the sting from Rajnath’s MBC card was taken away by Phoolan Devi’s murder. She hailed from the Mallah community, a numerically large MBC community, and had emerged as the symbol of resistance against upper caste oppression. Mulayam initially tried to cash in on the situation, holding the BJP responsible for the murder. However, he soon became silent as some of his own partymen were taken into custody for interrogation in the Phoolan murder case. Despite all its manoeuvres, the BJP’s MBC card is not going to work wonders because reports from the ground indicate a stronger resentment among the people against the Vajpayee and Rajnath governments.

Rajnath’s dismissing Naresh Aggarwal from his cabinet, accusing him of being in league with Mulayam, has passed off as a non-event. Rajnath had hoped to hit two birds with one stone. He sought to make Naresh, who was the minister for power, a scapegoat for the worst ever power crisis in the state. But his departure has made no difference to the power situation. Secondly, through this Rajnath wanted to project himself as a crusader against corruption, since Naresh was known to be extremely corrupt. But his attempt boomeranged when people started questioning his sudden anti-corruption zeal after having relied on the same corrupt deserter, from the Congress, to run the government for five years.

In the face of unabated popular resentment against its misgovernance, the BJP’s ultimate weapon is the communal card. Through the synchronised action of the state government and various outfits of the Sangh Parivar, an anti-minority bogey is constantly being raised on “cross-border terrorism”, ISI and Islamic fundamentalism, and localised communal tension being created. Several cases of such communal tension were witnessed in the last one month; notably, in Siddharthnagar, Rae Bareily, Muzaffarnagar, Moradabad, Kanpur etc. The communal temperature is kept high in different areas by periodically killing some “terrorist” (“cross-border”, of course!) in fake encounters. It is quite likely that all this is part of some larger diabolic design.

Mulayam has very little to offer in terms of new ideas for a democratic rejuvenation in the state. Rather, he is more focused on luring people from other camps. Deserters like BL Kanch Lal, a prominent leader of the traders from the BJP, and Naresh Aggarwal and Vikramjeet Maurya, ex-ministers from Loktantrik Congress, have already gone over to his side, and, in all probability, RK Choudhary and BR Verma from BSP would also do the same. The Congress is trying to put up a brave face by issuing the call for “BJP gaddi chhoro” but there are still no signs of its revival in the state, periodical rumours about Priyanka’s planned forays into UP politics notwithstanding. The CPI(M)-CPI are, as usual, happy with joining the Mulayam bandwagon. The CPI(ML), on its part, is trying to carve out a niche for itself in the political landscape of the state, by relying on the assertion of the rural poor, mobilisation of the peasantry over issues of agrarian crisis, and by playing an incessantly active role in the general democratic movement, especially in opposing the police-state phenomenon. Our impressive agitation on August 9 had a broad impact and was duly acknowledged by the media, too.

— Lal Bahadur Singh