Debating India

INDE

A new line-up in U.P.

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI

Wednesday 13 August 2003, by TRIPATHI*Purnima S.

The Opposition fails again to topple the Mayawati-led government, but the latest political realignment has the potential to effect far-reaching political changes in the State and at the Centre.

AFTER a fortnight of uncertainty, yet another effort by the Opposition parties to topple the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh came to naught. On June 10, Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri rejected the Opposition’s request to direct the government to convene a special session of the State Assembly and seek a fresh vote of confidence, on the grounds that they had failed to furnish any proof that the government had been reduced to being in a minority. A Raj Bhavan communique said: "The Opposition has so far not put forward any proof before the Governor to enable him to prima facie conclude that the present government has been reduced to minority."

The Opposition group comprising the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Congress(I), the Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) led by former Chief Minister and BJP leader Kalyan Singh and the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by former Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh had demanded that a special session of the Assembly be convened for a trial of strength of the Mayawati government because it had lost its majority following the withdrawal of support by the RLD, which had 14 members in the Assembly. Giving an account of the events since May 30, when the RLD submitted a letter to the Governor informing him of its decision to withdraw support to the Mayawati government, the Raj Bhavan communique made it clear that the Governor was not convinced about the Opposition parties’ claims about dissidence within the BJP and hope of getting support from the latter’s MLAs in the event of a trial of strength. It said the issue had been examined after BJP Legislature Party leader Lalji Tandon wrote to the Governor about "misleading" newspaper reports that some BJP MLAs were in touch with the Opposition parties.

In fact, the government continued to enjoy a majority in the Assembly even after the withdrawal of support by the RLD. Apparently, the Opposition parties too were aware of this fact, and it prevented them, unlike in the two earlier occasions, from parading their MLAs in front of the Governor. The Opposition deliberately refrained from muscle-flexing and instead tried to persuade the Governor to convene a special session of the Assembly, in the hope that a floor test would make dissident BJP MLAs switch loyalties. Currently, the government has the support of 212 MLAs on paper as against the requirement of 203 and the Opposition parties have the support of 184.

THE attempt to topple the BSP-BJP government, however, could have far-reaching consequences in State and national politics. Two developments that need to be taken note of are the coming together of the S.P. and the Congress(I) on the one hand and arch rivals Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ajit Singh on the other. A close look reveals that this repositioning is capable of neutralising any gains the formation of the alliance would fetch the BJP or the BSP in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Statements made by both Ajit Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav indicate that they have joined hands with this larger goal in mind, forgetting the more contentious issue of leadership at the State level for the time being.

Talking to Frontline, Ajit Singh made it clear that toppling the Mayawati government was not the only purpose he had in mind when he quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and withdrew support to the State government. He said: "The coming together of the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh is aimed not only at a change of government in U.P., but it will have far-reaching impact in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, where our party has areas of influence. Besides, it will also impact national-level politics."

Denying that the RLD planned to forge a long-term alliance with the Congress(I), he said: "I intend to provide an alternative to the non-Congress(I), non-BJP voter." He, however, said that joining hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav was a significant move and that the partnership was to last at least until the next Lok Sabha elections. "If the BJP and the BSP can come together - even when their voters are at daggers drawn - why can’t we come together? At least our vote banks are compatible," he said.

He made it clear that as far as Uttar Pradesh was concerned he would have no problem in accepting Mulayam Singh Yadav as the Chief Minister. He said: "No names have been discussed as yet, but given the political situation, there should be no problem once the issue comes up for consideration. Let me put it on record that I am not a candidate (for chief ministership) and I’ll have no problem in accepting anybody else, be it Mulayam Singh, Kalyan Singh or Jagdambika Pal."

Significantly, it was the leadership issue in Uttar Pradesh that had kept Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ajit Singh apart since 1989. With the resolution of the issue, their parties could together become a formidable force in western Uttar Pradesh, a stronghold of the BSP-BJP alliance.

Mulayam Singh Yadav said that he too was not looking for short-term gains. Addressing a press conference on June 8, after he met Kalyan Singh, Ajit Singh and the newly appointed Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Jagdambika Pal to decide the final strategy, Mulayam Singh Yadav said the Mayawati-led government was continuing with the "blessings of the Governor, the support of the Speaker of the State Assembly and on the directions of the Prime Minister". He said that when "people holding constitutional posts were hell-bent on destroying democracy, we have no option but to go to the people".

In the Congress(I), the removal of Arun Kumar Singh Munna, known for his strong anti-Mulayam Singh Yadav views, from the UPCC president’s post and the appointment of Jagdambika Pal are clear indications that the party has finally made up its mind to play ball with Mulayam. With a new leader, the UPCC has announced its decision to launch an agitation against the State government’s "apathetic" attitude towards issues affecting the people. Jagdambika Pal had become Chief Minister for one day in 1998, with the support of the S.P., after he walked out of the then Kalyan Singh-led government along with some of his colleagues from the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC). (Kalyan Singh was at that time in the BJP.) Amidst high drama, Governor Romesh Bhandari administered him the oath of office at midnight, while UPLC president Naresh Agrawal was sworn in Deputy Chief Minister (Frontline, March 20, 1998). However, the government was ousted in a day when Kalyan Singh secured an interim order from the Allahabad High Court, which stayed the dismissal of his government.

Interestingly, Mayawati remained unruffled all through the crisis. In fact, even while the drama was unfolding, she left on a fortnight-long five-nation tour to woo investors to the State. Speaking to potential investors in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Switzerland and France, she asserted that there would be political stability in the State as long as she was in power. Barely four days after the RLD withdrew support to her government, she told a meeting of businesspersons in New York that her government was "pretty stable" and there was hardly any threat to it. She claimed that the State would provide a congenial atmosphere to all those who invested in the infrastructure, information technology and biotechnology projects undertaken by her government. Mayawati said India had seen remarkable economic changes and Uttar Pradesh, which had great economic potential, was one of the most industrially developed States in the north of the country. She claimed that Uttar Pradesh was one of the best-governed and most-investor-friendly States, where "you all can operate with full confidence".

The Chief Minister said she was looking for private investors to participate in the establishment of world-class institutes in medicine and engineering as well as to set up universities. She spoke of the four special economic zones that would offer concessions and exemptions with regard to laws relating to labour, power and tax. Mayawati said that the government was also planning to establish a Web city near New Delhi. Other projects for which Mayawati sought investments included the eight-lane, Rs.2,500-crore Taj Expressway being built between Noida and Agra; NRI City; IT City; Medi-City; Bio-tech City; and a modern shopping mall near Noida.

She concluded her address in New York by once again allaying fears of political instability. Mayawati said: "There is no threat to my government. We have more than an absolute majority. Had there been a threat, would I be here on a foreign trip? "

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