Debating India


Failed alliances

Saturday 25 September 1999, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

By rejecting an electoral alliance, the S.P. and the BSP have lost a fine opportunity to augment their respective support bases to make a lasting political impact.

HAD an idea mooted by some friends of Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Kanshi Ram in June been accepted, the electoral fortunes of both the parties would have been strikingly different. It would hav e changed the very character of the 13th Lok Sabha with the S.P.-BSP combine emerging as the most formidable force from Uttar Pradesh, capable of tilting the balance of power.

The proposal was to revive the S.P.-BSP alliance of 1993 in Uttar Pradesh in order to form a combine of Dalits, Yadavs, Muslims, a section of Thakurs and Other Backward Classes. The combination would have easily polled 45 per cent of the total votes and won more than 70 of the 85 seats in the State, which has the maximum number of constituencies in the country.

Favouring the prospect, Kanshi Ram is reported to have said that "the result the combine would bring in would alter the face of the 13th Lok Sabha". For it was unlikely that any political formation would have formed a government without it. This would gi ve a powerful boost to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s oft-repeated theory that India is too pluralistic socially and politically to submit to the bipolar politics of the Congress(I) and the BJP variety. The expected impact of the alliance also matched Kanshi Ram’s larger political design of creating instability in the country’s political system. According to the BSP chief, "frequent elections and unstable governments suited the Bahujan Samaj Party as it has no value for stability that perpetuates the vested interests of the upper castes and classes."

Beyond the ideological perspective, the alliance suited the parties organisationally too. The S.P. and the BSP are largely confined to Uttar Pradesh, with pockets of influence in other States. Had the alliance been forged, its leaders could have concentr ated their energies on one State and made a political impact at the national level.

More important, the alliance would have checked the scale of the shift in the BSP’s Dalit vote base and the S.P.’s Muslim support base towards the Congress(I). Dalits affiliated to the BSP, other than Chamars and Pasis, were shifting their loyalties to t he Congress(I) in Uttar Pradesh though not on the same scale as in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes by the two parties would have, in turn, stopped the movement of Brahmins tow ards the Congress(I) from the BJP. As a result, the revival of the Congress(I) in the State would have slowed down. This would have then compelled the Congress(I) to depend on the combine to regain its political supremacy at the Centre.

The idea sounded politically prudent and the two strategists started working out the details. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram communicated with each other through intermediaries. The exercise continued until early July and then fizzled out. The reason was that former Chief Minister and BSP vice-president, Mayawati, was against any association with the S.P. leadership.

Informed sources in the BSP say that Mayawati has not forgiven the S.P. for the assault on her by its activists at a State guest house in June 1995. She cited the episode as the most humiliating experience in her life. Further, she argued that the presen t elections provided the BSP with the best opportunity to fortify its Muslim vote base and emerge as the champion of the forces of social justice in the State. Her contention was that Muslim voters, already disillusioned with the S.P., perceived the BSP as the party with the potential to defeat the BJP. Hence, it could improve its tally on its own. It was on the basis of the same premise that Mayawati ruled out an electoral understanding with the Congress(I) at a later stage.

Although Kanshi Ram was reportedly not pleased with Mayawati’s stand, he submitted to her line of argument as she virtually controls the party machinery on account of her special status as a two-time Chief Minister.

Both the parties withdrew from the effort and began to search for alternatives. Having fallen out with its former allies, such as the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on the question of s upporting a minority Congress(I) government following the fall of the Vajpayee Ministry, the S.P. tried to form a new third front consisting of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Forward Bloc and the Revolution ary Socialist Party. This effort also failed. The alliance with the NCP and the RPI was confined to Maharashtra, where the S.P. has been allotted two Lok Sabha seats and 15 Assembly seats. The S.P. was ready to allot three seats to the NCP in Uttar Prade sh, two of them in the hill districts where the S.P. has no mass base. The offer of a third seat, Varanasi, was withdrawn after the S.P. rejected the choice of the candidate. The S.P. wanted the NCP general secretary, Devendra Dwivedi, to contest, as the candidature of its secretary Vijay Dubey was not acceptable. As Dwivedi refused to comply, the whole seat-sharing exercise was called off.

IT is debatable whether the failure to forge such an understanding will affect the S.P.’s future in U.P. politics. In its hurry to add new castes and communities to its vote bank and thus stay buoyant in the caste-oriented politics of the State, the S.P. seems to have struck a mind-boggling understanding with a section of the backward caste group in the State BJP, led by none other than Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Although Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh have officially denied any such an understa nding, campaign trends from at least 15 constituencies in the State point in this direction.

This understanding stemmed from the humiliation suffered by Kalyan Singh at the hands of the BJP national leadership, particularly Vajpayee, during the selection of candidates. Kalyan Singh wanted many of his nominees, including his son Rajveer Singh and close associate Urmila Rajput, to be given the ticket. Not only were the names not considered, the national leadership denied the ticket to the sitting MP from Farukhabad, Sakshi Maharaj, who belongs to the Lodh Rajput caste. It is this rebuff (Kalyan S ingh is also a Lodh Rajput) that seems to have triggered the covert understanding with the S.P.

Manifestations of this adjustment were visible in Sakshi Maharaj’s extensive campaign for the S.P. candidates in the Lodh Rajput belt of Mathura and Farukhabad (this area accounts for 11 parliamentary seats and includes Kalyan Singh’s home town of Aligar h) and in Kalyan Singh’s refusal to canvass in the region for the BJP candidates. Sakshi Maharaj has been campaigning under the banner of the Lodh Swabhiman Sabha. Interestingly, this organisation has attracted members of the community attached to other political parties, including the Congress(I) and the BSP.

The refrain from members of a crowd that was waiting to hear Sakshi Maharaj for more than three hours at Thariya village in Fatehpur district was that both Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were their leaders. Rajnath Singh, one of the vocal members o f the pro-Kalyan Singh group, told Frontline that the backward caste-upper caste struggle in the party that intensified in 1989 was far from over. "The upper castes in the BJP and the Congress(I) are trying to undercut backward caste politicians. The denial of the ticket to Sakshi Maharaj is an indication of this. The backward castes cannot allow this to happen."

This sentiment was evident in scores of Lodh Rajput villages that this correspondent visited in the Mathura-Farukhabad belt. Two days before campaigning closed for the September 18 elections in the Lodh-dominated Pashnipura village, a group of BJP worker s had abandoned electioneering and started playing cards even as the party candidate, Ram Baksh Verma, tried to catch their attention. Explaining their indifference, Malhan Singh, a local BJP office-bearer, said that they were committed to Sakshi Maharaj . Discounting the fact that the replaced candidate was also a Lodh, Malhan Singh branded him a "kaagaz ke phool" (paper flower).

According to BJP insiders belonging to the anti-Kalyan Singh group, the Chief Minister and Sakshi Maharaj are helping the S.P. in most of the seats the party is contesting. In a quid pro quo, the S.P. has fielded weak candidates in seats such as F aizabad and Hamirpur, from where Kalyan Singh loyalists, such as Vinay Katiyar and Gangacharan Rajput, are contesting. In Faizabad, the S.P. has replaced its sitting MP, Mitrasen Yadav, with Heeralal Yadav, who is an unknown entity.

While the support of Sakshi Maharaj and his associates does seem to boost the backward caste base of the S.P., there is also the danger that this might alienate Muslim voters from the party, particularly because leaders such as Sakshi Maharaj have been i dentified with the Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement. However, the S.P. leadership tries to present the revolt of Sakshi Maharaj as proof of trouble within the Sangh Parivar that would ultimately benefit the secular forces as it would lead to a split in the St ate BJP. What turn events will take is not clear, but it is evident that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the "great gambler of the Gangetic plains", is once again gambling with his political career. Outwardly, he exudes confidence and claims that the S.P. will win at least 50 seats.

A SIMILAR air of confidence is evident in the BSP camp despite the absence of any creative alliances. The party’s best performance was in 1996 when it won six seats and polled 20.6 per cent of the total votes. Among the national parties, the BSP, with 4. 8 per cent of the votes, occupies the fourth place in terms of vote share, behind the BJP, the Congress(I) and the CPI(M). Kanshi Ram told Frontline that he aimed at a five-fold increase in the seats tally and an increase in the vote share in orde r to move up to the third place. "This would enable the launch of the BSP in future battles," he said.

Sections of the BSP are of the view that but for Mayawati’s refusal to form alliances, the party could have performed better. Party insiders say that the differences over the question of seat-sharing between Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had surfaced in April itself when the Vajpayee government faced a vote of confidence. Arguing that the BJP was a bigger danger to the BSP, Kanshi Ram showed keenness to enter into a short-term alliance with the Congress(I) or the S.P. His manoeuvres relating to the vote of confidence, which ultimately led to the fall of the government, point to this move.

On the other hand, Mayawati’s priority was to save the BJP government, either by voting for it or by abstaining from voting. Her proximity to Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Lalji Tandon, who is in turn close to Vajpayee, is said to have inspired this position. However, she had to conform to Kanshi Ram’s line and lead the five-member BSP group in the Lok Sabha to vote against the government. The BSP chief had then successfully initiated a discussion to strike a deal with Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. Kan shi Ram, along with Sharad Pawar, then Leader of the Congress (I) in the Lok Sabha, worked out a deal that involved pulling down the Kalyan Singh Government and making Mayawati the Chief Minister with the support of the Congress(I) and the S.P.

Congress(I) leaders and Kanshi Ram apparently saw the "Uttar Pradesh operation" as the forerunner to the formation of a national alliance. However, the situation changed within a few days. The Congress(I) refused to accept the idea of a coalition governm ent at the Centre and Mulayam Singh Yadav asserted that he would not allow a "foreigner" to become Prime Minister. In the process, the possibility of toppling Kalyan Singh receded. Mayawati has struck back by ruling out any alliance.

Kanshi Ram’s persistence with the idea of a coalition with the Congress(I) came in the background of the collapse of both the "Uttar Pradesh operation" and the proposed alliance with the S.P. He tried to revive the deal that involves making Mayawati the Chief Minister and made it clear that he would part with only 25 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress(I), which had initially made tall claims, steadily altered its demands and was even ready to accept what was offered by the BSP.

What finally brought the negotiations to an end was a rider that the Congress(I) attached any agreement. This was that the alliance should not be confined to Uttar Pradesh but should include Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, the Congress(I) wanted to make maximum gains from the potential of the BSP leadership to transfer its votes in any direction it deemed fit.

This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the BSP, partly because its Madhya Pradesh unit felt betrayed by the Congress(I) in the November Assembly elections. The BSP had supported the Congress(I) in more than half the seats on the basis of an unders tanding that a leader from a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe would be considered for the position of either Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister. After the elections, the Congress(I) failed to keep its promise.

Kanshi Ram has chosen a moderate path compared to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s almost adventurist course. Sections of the BSP and the S.P. believe that both the leaders will have to work out some kind of an understanding after the elections, particularly in the context of the backward caste churning within the BJP as well as the resurgence of the Congress(I), which is an equal threat to both the parties.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 20, Sep. 25 - Oct. 08, 1999

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