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December 20, 1997


BSP does not want power, but instability

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Most political parties are ready to unleash campaigns designed to grab power at the Centre.

Not the Bahujan Samaj Party, which wants another bout of instability on the nation.

Instead of bulldozing its rank and file into winning more seats in the general election, the BSP plans to woo the upper castes to its fold. Is it trying to join the mainstream? No, it wants to divide the upper caste vote with a view to ensuring a weaker government at the Centre.

''A weak government in New Delhi suits our interests best. We look forward to a majboor (dependent) rather a mazboot (strong) government,'' firebrand BSP leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati told Rediff On The NeT..

Asked what the BSP plans to achieve by doing this, she said, ''The BSP will be able to dictate terms only to a weak government. And, by ensuring a dominant position for ourselves, we can safeguard the interest of dalits and the BSP.''

Asked if the BSP got a kick out of proxy rule, Mayawati shot back, ''We know this is not going to be our turn. But I am confident that the BSP will be in a comfortable position to lead the country by the turn of the century.''

Driven by this design, Mayawati does not predict a long life for the next government. ''Whoever comes to power will not last more than 18 to 24 months. Thereafter, there will be yet another election, which will see the BSP's rise to power.''

Going it alone, the BSP is confident that it will make substantial gains in the Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh. In other states, the party is keeping its options open -- for tie-ups or seat adjustments with other national or regional parties. ''We should be able to take our tally to at least 40 to 50 -- a major chunk of which will come from Uttar Pradesh.'' The party had 11 MPs -- six from UP, three from Punjab and two from Madhya Pradesh -- in the 11th Lok Sabha.

Mayawati, however, is confident of making inroads into the southern states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. As also in Orissa, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir. ''We have already one MLA in Karnataka,'' she bragged, adding the party would contest 300 seats in the coming election.

''It's my six-month tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister which is going to give me an edge,'' she said. ''Everybody has seen how my government had worked for the people's welfare, without discriminating against anyone. The people are now convinced that only the BSP is committed to their welfare, regardless of their caste or religion.''

The change in the BSP's poll plank has been driven by its realisation that caste-oriented parties -- it is considered a dalit party -- does not permit much scope for any party. No wonder Mayawati and her party chief Kanshi Ram are all set to woo the upper caste Hindus.

To realise this goal, the BSP plans to field upper caste candidates in the Lok Sabha election.

Mayawati's proclamations in this regard are substantiated by the party's recent decision to award a bulk of the tickets to upper castes and Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh legislative council election, slated for December 29.

''The idea is to reinforce the fact that we are not just a dalit party, but we are committed to the well-being of the community as a whole,'' she said, unwittingly unveiling her party's strategy. ''Once we field more upper caste, OBC and Muslim candidates, we will eat into the vote bank of our key rivals -- the BJP and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh -- while our dalit vote bank remains intact.''

Referring to the creation of several new districts, parks and other public institutions -- which have been named after 'forgotten' social reformers, mostly belonging to the socially backward castes or dalits -- the BSP leader said, ''Such achievements would go a long way in polarising the other backward caste votes in my party's favour.

''The OBCs in UP were not aware that our idols -- like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Shahuji Maharaj -- had done exemplary work in ensuring social equality,'' she lamented. ''We, therefore, took it upon ourselves to spread their message by christening districts and other places after them.'' Similarly, several places were named after Gautam Buddha, his mother Mahamaya and Dr B R Ambedkar.

Asked if her past alignment with the BJP would be come in the way of wooing Muslims, Mayawati said, ''We will tell the Muslim masses how the United Front and the Congress forced us to align with the BJP to form a coalition government after the last assembly election. Who does not know that we waited for months, hoping the United Front and the Congress would come forward to extend support to the BSP-led government? Even Congress president Sitaram Kesri, a self-proclaimed dalit champion, failed to rise to the occasion when the UF refused to support us. Why did he not pull the rug from under the UF government because of the combine's anti-dalit outlook? He revealed his true colours by withdrawing support to the UF when it came to his own cherished desire of becoming the country's prime minister.''

Mayawati also has plans to impress upon Muslims how she saved the contentious shrines in Mathura and Varanasi which were being targeted by the BJP and its allies. ''Though I was running a government with the BJP's support, I refused to allow the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to perform a yagna in Mathura or another ritual (jal abhishek) in Varanasi,'' she said.

Mayawati also targets Samajawadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. ''It is high time Muslims understood how they were being misled by Yadav who portrays himself as the sole messiah of Muslims and champion of secularism. He was the one who aligned with the BJP on two occasions -- in 1977 and 1989,'' she charged.

The BSP leader is equally critical of the Congress. ''The party is as responsible as the BJP for the Babri Masjid demolition,'' she said.

In the same breath, the former chief minister talks of her party's possible tie-up with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. ''As long as the BSP stands to gain, there is no untouchable,'' she clarified. ''But we do not believe in going to anyone with a begging bowl; we let others do that.''

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