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February 21, 1998


UP fall shows BJP the risk of coalitions

George Iype in New Delhi

The collapse of the barely four-month-old Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh may be a timely warning to the Bharatiya Janata Party that its brand of power politics is fraught with inherent dangers and contradictions.

For the BJP, the short-lived experiment of sharing power in Uttar Pradesh with the help of defectors and MLA with criminal records, points to the risks of leading a coalition government at the Centre.

Few political observers, including those who supported the BJP, expected the Kalyan Singh government to survive for long; but even fewer thought it would be reduced to a minority on the eve of the second phase of a crucial Lok Sabha election in the state.

In October, the BJP's state leadership cleverly engineered defections in the Congress and accommodated the breakaway Loktantrik Congress in the government.

However, a bid for an encore in New Delhi drew a blank. "The BJP undertook a similar attempt to break the Congress after we withdrew support to the United Front government in November, but it failed," said Congress Working Committee member Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Soon after Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral's resignation, some BJP leaders claimed that the party had the support of over 40 Congress members of Parliament to form a government at the Centre. It is widely believed that the necessary support of one-third members needed to cause a split was unavailable.

"We are happy that the BJP's brand of coalition politics has been exposed in UP," Azad told Rediff On The NeT.

He insisted that the BJP is fighting a losing battle for the Centre, and ridiculed the party's poll slogans of stability and able leadership.

"Instability is the trademark of BJP state governments. A split occurred in Gujarat, in Uttar Pradesh, and it will happen within the next 15 days in Maharashtra," the CWC member said.

Congress leaders now feel confident that the BJP leadership will not dare lure any Congress MP after the elections results are out. Most poll surveys have predicted that the BJP will emerge as the single largest group in the election, but well short of a majority. Many had feared that in such an eventuality, the BJP would go into overdrive to engineer defections in the other parties, a la UP.

Suddenly, it appears that for all the non-BJP groups in the politically-volatile state of UP, which accounts for 85 seats in Parliament, the BJP has become Enemy Number 1 during the ongoing election.

BJP leaders sought to justify the opposition to it. "All the other parties might see us as Enemy Number 1 because the BJP is the number one party in UP," says BJP vice-president Kewal R Malkani, adding, "All the other parties in UP are frightened at our electoral march through the state."

He ridiculed the Congress charge that the UP incident is an ominous signal for the BJP at the Centre.

"We are running successful coalition governments in Haryana and Maharashtra. The only difference is that in UP our supporters were a bunch of opportunists, not committed political persons," he told Rediff On The NeT.

The BJP's formal allies in the present Lok Sabha election include the Shiv Sena (Maharashtra), Samata Party (Bihar), AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), Lok Shakti (Karnataka), and Haryana Vikas Party (Haryana). The acid test that awaits the BJP is how long these regional parties will support the party's Hindutva agenda if an Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government is formed at the Centre after the election.

Samata Party General Secretary Jaya Jaitly, however, says the collapse of the UP government will have no relevance at the Centre.

"We are not worried about what happened to the BJP government in the UP assembly. We are a formal ally of the BJP, unlike the Congress defectors who formed the Kalyan Singh government," she told Rediff On The NeT.

Though taken aback by the sudden developments in UP, the BJP leadership wasted little time in writing to President K R Narayanan, asking that the BJP be allowed to prove its majority on the floor of the UP assembly.

Party strategists believe the sudden political tide against the BJP in UP will not affect its poll prospects in the state. The BJP's top leadership has decided to press for a fresh assembly election if it is not allowed to prove its majority in the Vidhan Sabha.

Elections '98

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