The Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh is as good as buried, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is fighting a losing battle against demons within and the Samajwadi Party (SP) is staring at the biggest crisis in its existence till date. The fourth member of the equation – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – could never have asked for a more conducive climate in the run-up to the most crucial state assembly elections in the country.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi is no Indira Gandhi, not even a Mayawati. But for five years since 2007 she was president of the state unit of the Congress Party. That should count for something. (At one time her husband P C Joshi was known as “Congressi Jija” or Congress brother-in-law.) And she was a vocal supporter of the Gandhi family, as are all other Congress people by default.
And just when the party is getting ready to go full throttle for the upcoming elections, Joshi jumps ship. The BJP, which has never had any qualms about accepting anyone regardless of his/her past, welcomed Joshi with open arms.
Yes, there is the Brahmin factor in favour of Joshi and that must have prompted the BJP, considered a party of upper caste Hindus, to pull in Joshi whose elder brother, Vijay Bahuguna, is already a senior member of the party and one-time chief minister of Uttarakhand.
Joshi, who was said to be unhappy about the selection of “outsider” Sheila Dixit as the chief ministerial candidate, in interviews after her departure was unsparing in her criticism of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, something that a majority of senior Congressmen would love to share but are afraid to air.
It is still early days for the elections, which are not due for another five months or so, and there are bound to be more desertions from the Congress and most, if not all, are likely to be towards the BJP. There is no punditry required in predicting that the Congress Party does not stand a chance in Uttar Pradesh. As it is the party had said it would be happy if it got 50 seats. As things stand today, it will be a surprise if it makes a double-digit tally.
Just a few months ago the BSP, led by Mayawati, was seen to be gaining enough ground for her to make a strong comeback as chief minister for the fifth time. The politics of polarisation played by the SP, by which it had kept the Muslim population under constant fear of violent attacks from the right-wing Hindus, was beginning to unravel.
The lynching of Mohamed Akhlaq for alleged possession of beef and the subsequent appeasement of Hindu hordes by the SP government only helped Muslims understand SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s motives. Naturally, a sizeable number of them began to gravitate towards the BSP.
Mayawati’s party was born out of a reaction to decades, even centuries, of upper caste Hindu domination and subjugation of lower caste Hindus, or Dalits as they are known in these parts. The Dalits had been the strong suit of the BSP since its birth. The ‘vote-bank’ politics in UP had clearly demarcated lines. The Muslims go with the SP, the Dalits with the BSP, the Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus with the BJP. The Congress, of course, was left with the crumbs from all these sections.
But that equation has changed dramatically over the past two years, or since the general elections of 2014 to be precise. The BSP finds that it can no longer take the Dalit vote for granted. This is the information age and even if you are absolutely illiterate, as a good portion of Dalits is, information about Mayawati’s alleged corruption and her multi-million dollar birthday bashes gets to you regardless. And here you are toiling for those two frugal meals a day.
The resignation of party general secretary Swami Prasad Maurya in June charging Mayawati with trying to sell party tickets to the highest bidder for the assembly polls was a body blow to the BSP supremo. The Maurya-Khushwaha community is one of the largest backward caste grouping in UP and the BSP is bound to suffer because of the exit of a senior leader. What is worse, Maurya walked straight into the outstretched arms of the BJP.
Mayawati’s attempts to edge closer to the Brahmins and upper caste Hindus also have not borne much fruit as, unlike the Dalits, these are better educated and are not that easy to placate. All in all the BSP is not in the best of health to catapult Mayawati to the chief minister’s chair once again.
But the most unexpected development in UP politics is the internal squabbles of the SP. It has been said that ever since the last assembly elections in 2012, UP is ruled by four-and-a-half chief ministers – the half being the constitutionally appointed Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and the other four “full” chief ministers being Mulayam Singh Yadav, his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav, cousin Ram Gopal Yadav and Rampur strongman Azam Khan.
Akhilesh is young and, therefore, considered immature to hold the top post. But since he is the son of the party boss and nothing and nobody goes against Mulayam Singh’s wishes, Akhilesh was anointed chief minister. For the better part of four years Akhilesh had to play ball with the party bigwigs and their minions who had vested interests in almost every facet of life in India’s most populated state.
But having been exposed to the world outside – he got his master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Sydney – Akhilesh realised that the party had been taken for a long ride by people close to his father, Mulayam Singh, and that in the changed circumstances the focus of the party should be on development rather than doles and freebies to the underprivileged.
This naturally went against the interests of veterans of the party who had battened themselves on the massive state-sponsored poverty alleviation programmes even as it brought the youth of the state closer to Akhilesh.
Add to this an element of family intrigue and you have the recipe for the party’s disaster. Mulayam Singh’s second wife Sadhna is keen to bring up her son, Prateek, and daughter-in-law Aparna, into political limelight but with Akhilesh, who was born to Mulayam’s first wife, the now-deceased Malti Devi, getting more and more traction within the state and the party’s youth wing, this was going to be an uphill task.
Sadhna reportedly has the blessings of party general secretary Amar Singh as well as Shivpal Yadav and all three of them are said to have worked on Mulayam to get Akhilesh out of the way. Speculation gained further currency when Mulayam Singh told reporters that the next chief minister would be decided by the SP’s legislature party (in the event that the party gets a majority, that is), meaning there was no guarantee that Akhilesh would keep his job.
A series of farcical sackings from the cabinet – Shivpal Yadav included 0- and counter-sackings from the party have left Mulayam Singh Yadav none the stronger. The party in its present form is as good as finished. There is little scope of rapprochement and even if things were to normalise between father and son, there are several others who would never want to see eye to eye.
What happens next is a matter of pure conjecture. Akhilesh can well walk out and form his own outfit, but with elections so close there is no predicting as to how such a move will reflect on the voter. With a huge war chest at his disposal, Mulayam Singh is still a force to reckon with. But if his own son were to go against him, it could be an uphill task for the veteran of many a battle.
Thus the one party that finds itself sitting pretty is the BJP. The ‘surgical strike’ across the Line of Control on the border with Pakistan has boosted Modi’s and the party’s image immeasurably in UP which contributes a major chunk of soldiers to the Indian Army. And now with not a shot being fired, the BJP is finding its opponents in total disarray. Party president Amit Shah would wish for state elections tomorrow!
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