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Wah Behenji!

June 04, 2003 17:57 IST

Three lions and a lioness -- the sight should strike fear into any heart. But the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party seem to care as little as if they are confronted by nothing more than a quartet of kittens!

The lions are Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ajit Singh and Kalyan Singh, while their distaff partner is Sonia Gandhi. The prey they are hunting is the coalition government in Uttar Pradesh. The timing was good -- the prime minister and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh were abroad. The plan was feasible -- unite, entice defections from a disgruntled state unit of the BJP, and then bring down the Mayawati ministry. But the threat is taken so lightly that none of the major leaders of the two ruling partners bothered to change their schedule. Why?

The BSP's confidence arises from the confidence that it has the backing of the top leadership of the BJP come what may up to the next general election (and perhaps even beyond), as well as from Mayawati's ability to cozen or coerce wavering elements. As the much feared Raghuraj Pratap Singh found, the chief minister is as tough as they come and lack of support is likely to become a one-way ticket into the political wilderness. But how do we explain the apparent lack of interest in the BJP?

First, the BJP is daring the Congress (I) and Samajwadi Party -- Ajit Singh is not a major factor -- to try and oust a Dalit and a woman from the chief minister's chair. Love her or hate her, Mayawati has emerged as the tallest Dalit leader in India's most populous state. Ganging up on her will almost certainly serves only to consolidate the scheduled caste vote, which amounts to roughly 22 per cent of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh.

The BSP has in the past demonstrated its ability to transfer this vote to its allies. (Both the Congress (I) and Samajwadi Party have had an electoral understanding with Mayawati at one time or the other.) Thus, it could be in the interest of the BJP if the so-called 'grand alliance' tries to oust Mayawati.

But what happens if the attempt actually succeeds? Couldn't the new ministry that succeeds the BSP-BJP coalition work its 'magic' to neutralise the embittered Dalit voter? I doubt this; it might have been possible in the past, and may still be possible in some small pockets, but with an angry Union government as well as a vigilant Election Commission breathing down their necks even the most 'aggressive' politicians will find the going tough.

In fact, toppling the current ministry may be the easiest part of the whole job. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ajit Singh, Kalyan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are all old foes with differing goals. Ajit Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were claimants to the chief ministership as far back as 1990. (Ajit Singh lost the contest despite having the support of the then prime minister, V P Singh.) The Congress (I) needs to reestablish itself to become a serious contender for power in Delhi.

Who plays second fiddle to whom?

Let me sum it up: it will be merely difficult to form a successor government, but it shall be outright impossible to weld together an alliance to fight the inevitable elections. Mathematics may rule when it comes to votes of confidence in the assembly chamber, but the chemistry has to be perfect when it comes to polls...

Third, some state-level leaders in the BJP feel Mayawati takes them for granted because of her confidence in the word of their central leaders. If she is shaken by the threat to her government, they feel, then it is no bad thing. (The BSP leader takes the alliance quite seriously. When polarisation took place in the Gujarat assembly campaign and several non-Congress leaders went to campaign against the BJP, Mayawati cancelled her own engagements to fly down and make an enthusiastic pitch for her ally.)

The three Singhs are in a game to rule Lucknow, but the lioness is eyeing Delhi. In the past, the Congress (I) used to win Uttar Pradesh on the basis of Brahmin, Muslim, and Dalit votes. It lost the first to the BJP and the second to the Samajwadi Party in the early 1990s. Now, it seems as if it is prepared to write off the Dalit vote in all of North India! What becomes then of its ambition to rule Delhi?

T V R Shenoy