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The politics behind Uma Bharti's return

Last updated on: June 13, 2011 08:45 IST

The politics behind Uma Bharti's return

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
The party's most outspoken female member will be its face in the UP elections, writes Aditi Phadnis

Being around Uma Bharti can be exhausting: she's such a quicksilver motormouth. Two weeks before she was readmitted into the Bharatiya Janata Party, she was sprawled on a sofa at BJP President Nitin Gadkari's residence.

"Now don't you go writing that I am meeting him because I want to beg him to take me back in the BJP," she said, wagging her finger at media persons.

"I'm here because I just love fat people " she said. Then looking at Smriti Irani (television actress of Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi fame) with an arch smile, she added, "that's why I'm so fond of Smriti."

Irani looked at her distantly, smiled lightly and said, "Arre didi, I thought you were going to say I've lost weight."

Little wonder then that the most indiscreet -- and most outspoken -- woman member of the BJP found herself evicted from the party: once in 2004 and then again in 2006.

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At the ceremony marking her "re-entry" earlier this week she said, "For me, the past six years never existed."

But for many of her colleagues who were vocal about their lukewarm feelings on her return, it was impossible to forget some of the things that were said six years ago.

She charged Arun Jaitley with planting stories against her behind her back, criticised Sushma Swaraj and tore into many members of the BJP's national executive -- in the same way that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee denounced the government led by Jyoti Basu ("I cannot exist in a cabinet of thieves," he had said, before resigning).

This was not all. When she had to resign from the chief ministership following an old case against her in Hubli, both her successors found her a handful.



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Poor Babulal Gaur -- so named because his teachers in school would say "Babulal! gaur se suno (Babulal! listen carefully) when he was not paying attention -- found it hard enough to be taken seriously.

But when Bharti began pressing on him her ministerial choices, he found it impossible to cope with her. His successor, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, tried to shrug off the Bharti mantle as conclusively as he could. But much to his dismay she's now been welcomed back into the party.

In the BJP, Bharti's return was a well-kept secret. Several attempts were made in the past to get her back but they had to be abandoned because of the hostility of BJP leaders.

It follows that Bharti will be under intense scrutiny and if she slips and falls, there are many in the BJP who will applaud. Some may even create conditions for her to fall.

But the thinking of the current BJP leadership, specifically Nitin Gadkari, is clear. Bharti has been brought back and given charge of UP that has been her area of operation since the days of the Babri Masjid demolition. She is an OBC.



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The most important face in the Congress is her long-time political baiter, Thakur Digvijay Singh. So, if it is Sushma Swaraj to counter Sonia Gandhi and Varun Gandhi and youth wing chief Anurag Thakur (as he claims) to counter Rahul Gandhi, it is Uma Bharti to counter Digvijay Singh's effect in UP.

The BJP is trembling on a political cusp in UP. Drifting away from the upper-caste and dalit tactical coalition of Mayawati, which served her well when she came to power four years ago, the brahmins are now looking for other mentors.

They have a choice between the Congress and the BJP. Television images of the Delhi Police rousting the sleeping supporters of Ramdev have, no doubt, caused indignation. But the BJP's perceived weakness in UP is its biggest disadvantage.

By contrast, the Muslims are applauding from the heart the action the Congress-led government took. In their eyes, for the first time in years, justice is being done.



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In areas like Moradabad, for long a Samajwadi Party bastion, Muslims are thronging offices of the Congress, homes of political leaders and anyone they think would represent them.

In the circumstances it is clear, at least for the moment, that the politics of religious polarisation is going to play a big role in the forthcoming UP elections.

If the BJP is trying to position things that way politically, the Congress is responding too. In this context, Home Minister P Chidambaram's decision to order police action against Ramdev's supporters may have upset the Hindus, but his statement that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is backing Ramdev and the following action has made Muslims very happy.

In this configuration, who could be better than Uma Bharti for the BJP? If the colour of the battlefield is going to be saffron, why not the best-known face of the demolition moment?

As far as power politics in the party is concerned, Bharti's intervention will have to take a party that was predicted as being number three in UP to the second place. If the BJP slips to the fourth slot, then Bharti's homecoming will have been a wasted journey -- both for her and the party.



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