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Saturday 5 November 2011


Bronze assault Statues of BSP leaders at Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal, Noida
Up For Grabs
With corruption eating into Mayawati’s chances, rival parties see electoral hope
Moves & Countermoves
  • The BSP and the SP are the main players, with the ruling BSP taking the development plank and the latter hoping anti-incumbency will work in its favour.
  • The Cong is charging the BSP govt with large-scale corruption, especially in land acquisition, inability to check epidemics
  • Muslims are being wooed by all parties, chiefly with promises of job reservations
  • The BJP hopes to be the third-largest party in the House, to play kingmaker. It is attacking the Cong by highlighting the UPA’s scams.
The countdown to what may be the biggest political test before 2014—the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, scheduled for May 2012—has begun. Seen in a schematic way, the equations are unchanged from the last edition in 2007. A four-cornered contest, with the fractured vote it implies, is what political parties in this high-stakes game have to contend with again. The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its sworn adversary, the Samajwadi Party (SP), are the main players. The BJP and Congress are seen to be fighting for the third place, which could well be that of kingmaker should there be a hung verdict, a possibility political pundits never rule out in this kind of scenario. But despite the odds, Mayawati’s BSP could still emerge the single largest party.
In the game of attrition that multi-pronged contests turn into, what could tilt the balance are not huge waves but the cumulative effect of smaller forces. Two parties, for instance, can have a potentially disproportionate influence despite their limited scope: Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is confined to barely half-a-dozen districts of affluent western UP; and the little known Peace Party, headed by Dr Mohammed Ayub, which has a presence among Muslims in poverty-ridden eastern UP. The Peace Party could act as a spoiler for all four larger players, although it goes without saying that all parties are doing their best to woo the Muslim community.
Unlike in 2007, the two big players, the BSP and SP, go into battle with their roles reversed. Then, the BSP benefited from the SP’s shrinking aura. The anti-incumbency feeling against Mulayam Singh Yadav was stoked by his inability to counter general charges like the collapse of law and order. (His playing footsie with ex-BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, for anticipated benefits from his Lodh votebase, corroded his image further in the interim.) This time, however, it’s the BSP that has to struggle to retain its turf. Many in Mayawati’s inner coterie privately admit that notching up 150 seats in a house of 403 may not be easy.
This isn’t because of simple ‘anti-incumbency’. For parties like the BSP, which enjoy an ultra-loyal votebase, are relatively immune to wild fluctuations in popularity. It’s because the crucial additional strength that came to the otherwise essentially Dalit outfit in the form of Brahmin support in 2007 cannot be taken for granted this time. Satish Mishra, who had then emerged as the BSP’s Brahmin face and kingmaker, has failed to establish himself as a Brahmin leader. His focus on aggrandisement of his kin (half-a-dozen of them were placed in positions equivalent to cabinet ministers) meant he could not consolidate on the goodwill he enjoyed previously.
“Anybody in Satish Mishra’s position could have used the opportunity to rise as a genuine Brahmin leader, but he couldn’t rise above petty family considerations and somehow also nursed this ill-conceived notion that inaccessibility was a virtue in politics,” says a senior BSP Brahmin leader who stands sidelined today. So the halcyon days of ‘Haathi nahin Ganesh hai...’ slogans may be over. Another area of concern for the BSP is that its famed loyal votebase may finally be feeling a genuine strain, due to a visible division between younger and older Dalits. The latter remain totally with Mayawati, but a section of youth seem disillusioned with her. Awadhesh, a 24-year-old Dalit from a village outside Lucknow, says: “Behenji’s emergence to power in 2007 had raised a lot of hope among the Dalit youth that they would now get jobs without discrimination. But what we experienced was discrimination of another kind: those who can pay bribes have a clear edge.”

Will it be a home run? Akhilesh Yadav at a Samajwadi Party rally
The SP offers a mirror. An analyst says, “Mulayam’s SP crumbled last time not only due to bad law and order but also because he lost some two dozen seats in the core Yadav belt of central UP, essentially because many Yadavs chose not to vote. They were annoyed with him for he dashed their hopes of getting government jobs. Those who couldn’t pay money under the table did not get jobs.” And if Mulayam was tainted by a blatant patronage of criminals and corruption, during Mayawati’s regime rapes and murders by important persons in government subtracted from her image as a tough leader who deals with crime with an iron fist.
Mayawati, in defence, cites the “stern action against even the high and mighty in her party” if they were found involved in any crime. “Can you cite one example where Mulayam took action against his party leaders? Behenji has not spared even senior party mlas and ministers,” says a supporter. Others talk of overall improvement in the power and water situation. The successful conduct of the recent F1 event is also seen as a feather in her cap. But rivals, including the Congress, point to the encephalitis epidemic claiming the lives of close to 500 children in the state.

Reaching out Rahul Gandhi in Mirzapur
Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav, now travelling across the state to reach out to the people, rejects the idea that the BSP has handled corruption effectively. “Look at the level of corruption in which people at the highest level are involved. There’s so much construction, only in order to plunder taxpayers’ money. The extent of pilferage is unimaginable,” he says. “What’s her contribution to development, other than raising her own statues and building monuments and mansions for herself?”
As for the Congress, it was after two decades that it managed to get back into the reckoning in UP, where it finished with 22 seats in 2007. This poll has long been touted as Rahul Gandhi’s coming-of-age party, meant to showcase an earnest focus on ‘rebuilding the party’ in its old fief. Mayawati has been dismissive of Rahul’s surprise visits to Dalit homes, but the virulence of her attacks itself offered proof that the Gandhi scion possessed an unknown capacity for weaning away her voters. This will now be put to the test. Regardless of how he fares finally, Rahul has been a regular thorn in Mayawati’s flesh. His sneaking into Bhatta Parsaul village to support farmers agitating against land acquisition by the state government for the benefit of builders forced Mayawati to train her sights on him. She shot off several letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against Rahul’s unscheduled visits (and also hastily passed a new land acquisition bill). She has also blamed the Centre for pretty much everything that was wrong in UP. The UPA leadership has now hit back with allegations against the BSP regime of misuse of funds meant for social welfare programmes like nrega.

Rajnath and the ‘repatriated’ Uma Bharati. (Photograph by Nirala Tripathi)
The BJP is still putting its act together and rejuvenating its base in UP. Knowing the dissensions within the rank and file, the party leadership has divided the responsibilities between ex-CM Rajnath Singh and party veteran Kalraj Mishra, who, despite having been a minister in successive BJP regimes, has never won an election. Unlike Rajnath, Kalraj is also seen to be a less than rousing figure.
At the end of the day, the bloc with the most seats in the assembly will get a shot at government-making, so the role of alliances may be vital. This is where the Congress and BJP could come into the picture, depending on how they themselves fare. Of course, if either the BSP or SP gets a majority, as their supporters claim, the script will be different. Much can change between now and May 2012.

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