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The Rediff Special/ Aditi Phadnis
Jaya Bachchan: Congress' UP bungle
March 13, 2006
Those who had doubts about Jaya Bachchan's acting capacities needed only to have watched her performance at her in-laws' village, Babupatti, in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh last week. How well Bachchan plays stereotypes!
Though she did not actually visit the ancestral home of her family-by-marriage (the family migrated to Allahabad some decades ago) she acted out beautifully the role of a dutiful bahu, a very different one from the saas-bahu versions currently fashionable.
She spoke little, said in a soft voice that she was overcome with feelings, cried a little and appeared visibly to struggle with her emotions as she inaugurated the public reading room in her father-in-law's memory.
Buoyed by the performance in Pratapgarh, Jaya announced in the Rajya Sabha that she would contest in the Supreme Court the Election Commission's advice to the President of India that in being appointed to the UP Film Federation Corporation as chairman, she had held an office of profit. The court will decide, on the basis of the Constitution and law, what an office of profit really is.
The President, meanwhile, has taken off to the happier climes of Myanmar and Mauritius and will take a view on the matter only after he returns. But frankly, the discussion is irrelevant. The UP Assembly is in the process of passing a law to exempt the chairmanship of certain corporations and boards from the ambit of offices of profit.
So though she may be disqualified this time, Jaya is sure to return to the Rajya Sabha -- or maybe not; she might prefer the Lok Sabha. It is up to her, really.
The Congress is trying to hide. The genius who gave the party the advice that it should start a campaign around Jaya's supposed avarice and hunger for power by leveraging the office of profit theme must be in the dog-house.
Jaya has squarely put the blame for the controversy on the Congress. It is hard to argue with her, as the complainant is a defeated Congress candidate from Kanpur.
In the kachehari of every tehsil in UP, every Mathur and Shrivastava (law is usually the chosen profession of Kayasthas. Harivansh Rai Bachchan, one of UP's most famous Hindi poets and Amitabh Bachchan's father, was an aberration) is discussing angrily the treatment the Congress has meted out to a fellow Kayastha.
Brahmins are upset, too. You can't insult Harivansh Rai Bachchan's family in UP and hope to be forgiven.
The Kayastha and Brahmin votes in UP are not large enough to secure victory in individual constituencies. But they can influence the verdict in a large number of seats, especially in Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Bareilly and Western UP.
Worse, if the Jaya Bachchan issue really gains ground, the Congress will face a serious problem in states such as Haryana and Andhra Pradesh, where the party has secured landslide victories. In Haryana, for instance, the Congress has 67 out of 90 seats. The number of ministers allowed in the state government after the Sarkaria Commission gave its recommendation is 12.
What do you give to the rest of the 55 legislators, especially when each one believes the party is in power because of him? You make them chairmen of boards, corporations and societies, give them the rank of minister of state and hope they'll be content with that.
If those are not an office of profit, neither is Bachchan's appointment. Any way you look at it, it is an embarrassment for the Congress.
The Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party is milking the incident for everything it can. The Kayastha and Brahmin votes in UP had moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party, and now that the BJP is in bad shape in UP, is looking around for a party to back. SP will be it's natural choice now.
Though Varanasi blasts are a punctuation mark for the Brahmins, Jaya's 'humiliation' -- whose mother-in-law Teji played chaperone to Sonia Gandhi before her marriage to Rajiv (these gestures matter a lot in caste and family politics-ridden UP) -- will not be countenanced.
Those who are confused about the way Yadav always targets the Bahujan Samaj Party as the SP's primary enemy instead of the BJP, which should be his primary enemy, should rest assured. Yadav knows what he's doing.
So long as the Dalit vote in UP is alive and behind Mayawati's BSP, the SP doesn't need to worry. The day Dalits start voting for the Congress, Yadav will be out of Kalidas Marg before he can say 'AB Corp.'
So while others may say Yadav's influence is on the wane in UP because of the half a dozen electoral defeats his party has suffered in the past few months in UP, this isn't so. He may have lost the election to the BSP. But it is the BSP that is standing between his government and a resurgent Congress.
What Yadav is trying to do is to revive Chaudhary Charan Singh's AJGAR caste combination -- a rainbow coalition of middle castes such as Jats, Ahirs, Yadavs, Gujjars and Thakurs, and now, thanks to the Congress and Jaya Bachchan, a section of Brahmins and Kayasthas as well.
With the Dalits with Mayawati and no one really with the Congress, the party might go down from nine seats in the Lok Sabha, to two.
There is pronounced anti-incumbency against Yadav's government. This is to be expected. But despite this, if in Western UP, for instance, Thakurs and Jats get together, neither the BJP nor the Congress have a chance.
The Bulandshahar Lok Sabha seat is a good example. Kalyan Singh, once the BJP's chief minister, won from this Lodh (his caste) dominated seat this time by a margin of just 6,000 votes.Ajit Singh and Yadav fought the Lok Sabha election separately but Ajit Singh's candidate was not a strong one. If it had been, Kalyan Singh would surely have been trounced. But a couple of more incidents such as the Jaya Bachchan one and Yadav will be on a comeback trail -- both in the Centre and in the state.
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