Debating India

INDE

Waiting to strike

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI

Tuesday 19 August 2003, by TRIPATHI*Purnima S.

The Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, which is once again drumming up support to pull down the Mayawati government during the Budget session of the State Assembly, banks mainly on the discontent in the BJP over the party’s alliance with the BSP.

WITH the Budget session of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly slated to begin on August 28, the opposition parties have restarted their campaign to topple the Mayawati government. They claim that the government will not survive the session.

"The government cannot survive because it is in a minority and this being the Budget session, it can be voted out on any money Bill," Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and former Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh told Frontline. Significantly, this would be the first Assembly session after the RLD walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on May 30 and withdrew support to the Mayawati government. Ajit Singh had then demanded that the Mayawati government be dismissed as it had been reduced to a minority with 14 RLD MLAs withdrawing their support. He had demanded that the Governor convene a special session of the Assembly to test the government’s strength. The demand was not conceded by Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri.

Now the time has come for Ajit Singh to substantiate his claim. He is at the forefront of the campaign to topple the government. He is planning meetings along with Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) leader Kalyan Singh, State Congress president Jagdambika Pal and others.

What seems to have boosted the Opposition’s morale is the fact that the contradictions within the Bharatiya Janata Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP-BSP) alliance have intensified and doubts are raised whether the BJP will be able to rein in its MLAs this time.

In November 2002, 12 BJP MLAs raised the banner of revolt against Mayawati’s leadership and demanded that the party withdraw its support to her government as the alliance was damaging the BJP’s prospects (Frontline, December 6, 2002). Although the attempt came a cropper and most of the legislators retraced their steps after notices of disciplinary action were served on them, the incident exposed the discontent within the party over the continuance of the alliance.

Given this background, there could actually be some merit in the claims by Opposition parties that disgruntled BJP leaders have promised to support their attempts to topple the government. The Opposition leaders also hope that the eight Independent MLAs, who at present support the government, will support them. But, according to Ajit Singh, the independents MLAs could go either way. "They can even vote against the government provided they feel that an alternative government can be put in place. Many of them are in touch with us," he said, refusing to disclose their names on the grounds that that would expose them to the wrath of Mayawati and they would not like to meet with the same fate as Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, who is now in jail facing charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

Apart from the independent legislators, Mayawati has the support of 203 MLAs, exactly the number required for a majority in the House. If a single MLA votes against her, it can lead to the government’s demise.

At present the BSP has 114, the BJP 86, the Loktantrik Congress two and the Janata Dal (U) one member in the Assembly. The Opposition parties’ optimism is based on the assumption that the alliance will not last beyond six months. "There is a growing feeling among the BJP MLAs that their leadership would like Assembly elections to be held along with the general elections early next year. In that eventuality, many sitting BJP MLAs would have to forfeit their seats to accommodate the BSP, in case the alliance continues. Even if the alliance breaks, many BJP MLAs fear that they may not get re-elected. This has given rise to a feeling of insecurity and the MLAs would rather switch sides to ensure a full term in the Assembly," S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline.

The discontent within the State unit of the BJP over the alliance has actually reached a flash-point. The latest incident involving the party’s Ballia MLA, Ram Iqbal Singh, is a case in point. Ram Iqbal complained to the party high command that his supporters in Ballia constituency, including a Dalit, were being harassed by BSP MLAs. He alleged that BSP MLA Ghuraram and his supporters had torched the house of Om Prakash, a Dalit, and beaten up others and that the administration had failed to act. He sat in a dharna to demand action against the BSP leaders involved in the incident. Instead of action on his complaint, his brothers and nephews were arrested and he himself was booked under the gangster act. He obtained a stay order against his arrest.

The BJP has served a show-cause notice on Ram Iqbal as to why action should not be taken against him for anti-party activities. The Chief Minister allegedly threatened to get him arrested. Other dissidents too have been active, though not on the same scale. Ramashish Rai, a member of the Legislative Council, has now been expelled from the party for six years for "anti party activities" as he kept issuing statements against Mayawati. Rai had been on suspension since November 2002.

Even the BJP MPs were unhappy with the alliance, and the matter came to the fore when Mayawati demanded the dismissal of Union Culture Minister Jagmohan for his alleged involvement in the Taj Heritage Corridor controversy, in which she herself is now facing a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. BSP MPs stalled the proceedings in the Lok Sabha on July 29 on the issue, something which was not appreciated by the BJP. M. Venkaiah Naidu, BJP president, admitted that 21 Members of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh had met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and demanded withdrawal of support to the Mayawati government. It was only after Mayawati was sternly told by Vajpayee that there was no question of dismissing Jagmohan and that the BJP was ready to pull out of the government if matters came to a head, that Mayawati relented. But it is significant that immediately afterwards she exhorted BSP workers at a meeting in Shimla to be prepared for elections any time.

At present, the future of the BJP MLAs appears to be hanging in the air. Political observers are unanimous that in view of the political realities, Mayawati will not contest the Lok Sabha elections with the BJP as a partner as she does not stand to gain from such an alliance. Her victory depends on clubbing the votes from the Muslim community with those of Dalits, but if she opts for an alliance with the BJP, Muslims will not vote for her.

Political observers say that there is no guarantee that the BJP’s supporters would vote for BSP candidates. And the BJP wants to contest between 50 and 55 seats, and Mayawati can hardly be expected to give in to this demand. If the alliance collapses during the Lok Sabha elections, it would mean either fresh Assembly elections or an alternative government. "If the idea of an alternative government appears feasible now, the BJP MLAs will not hesitate to topple the government. I am confident the government will fall on the floor of the House," said Ajit Singh. He said the Opposition was ready with the format of an alternative government and the leadership issue would not come in the way. "I have no problem in accepting Mulayam Singh Yadav as the Chief Minister," he said.

But much depends on the moves by the BJP MLAs in the House. If they are not convinced about the prospects of an alternative government, then the government will sail through the Budget session. "A great deal depends on how the Opposition parties conduct themselves. The government will fall only if they are indeed able to present a united front," Ajit Singh said.

But given the level of hostility between the State leaders of the Congress(I) and the Samajwadi Party, it remains to be seen whether the Opposition can actually remain united until an alternative government is formed. "There is a lot of mistrust. This could spoil our efforts," a senior Opposition leader said. But it goes without saying that a very real crisis awaits the government ahead of the Budget session.

Apparently, the Chief Minister was well aware of this as was reflected in her decision to postpone the session by three weeks in order to be better prepared to face the music. The interim report by the CBI in the Taj Corridor Project was to be presented on August 17, and Mayawati wanted to be prepared to face the flak once the session began. Although the government said that the session was postponed as the Budget papers were not ready, the general perception is that Mayawati, at least this time, developed cold feet.

P.S.

Pic1:SUBIR ROY : Chief Minister and BSP vice-president Mayawati at a meeting of party MPs and MLAs at her official residence in Lucknow on August 6.

Pic2:GAUTAM SINGH/ AP : Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and former Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh.

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