Debating India


Exit Kalyan Singh

Saturday 27 November 1999, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

Kalyan Singh makes way for Ram Prakash Gupta as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, but the prognosis for the Bharatiya Janata Party is far from positive.

in Lucknow

" THE political roller-coaster has completed one cycle, but this is by no means a halt. It is bound to move again, and next time, who knows, the results may be vastly different ." That was Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh’s response to the deve lopments in the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which culminated in Kalyan Singh’s replacement as Chief Minister. The statement of Ram Prakash Gupta, the new Chief Minister, that he was "wearing a crown of thorns" could turn out to be t ruer than he meant it to be, added Amar Singh.

This assessment may have come from a leader of the BJP’s principal political adversary in the State, but it has many takers within the BJP. The mood among a large number of legislators on October 12, when the Ram Prakash Gupta Ministry was sworn in, and on October 17, when it was expanded, illustrated this. There were many glum and angry faces at an event that was billed as the beginning of a process meant to lift the party’s sagging fortunes.

It is not merely the supporters of Kalyan Singh who are upset and who predict the return of chaos to the State BJP. Even leaders belonging to upper-caste groups, led by Ministers Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon, who had campaigned for Kalyan Singh’s remov al for nearly six months, were not really savouring what should have been their moment of victory.

For, although Kalyan Singh was replaced, the leaders had failed to realise their personal objectives. Both Mishra and Tandon had aspired to become Chief Minister; in fact, days before Kalyan Singh was removed, Mishra’s supporters and a section of the med ia were certain that Mishra would be appointed. Even on November 9, when the central leadership of the party foisted Ram Prakash Gupta on the State unit, Mishra’s supporters had not given up hopes.

Rajnath Singh, president of the State unit of the party, too had projected himself as a candidate, but his disappointment was relatively minor for two reasons. One, he managed to retain his party post, despite indications that along with the replacement of the Chief Minister, there would be changes in the party organisation. Second, sensing early on that none of the three chief ministerial candidates stood a good chance, he backed Gupta’s candidature when the central leadership first suggested it. This tactical move strengthened his relationship with Gupta.

Other factors could add to Rajnath Singh’s primacy in the State unit. Gupta has been out of active politics for long and might find it difficult to come to terms with the prevailing political equations, which are based on caste and pressure groups. Gupta is not lacking in administrative experience - he was Deputy Chief Minister in 1967 under Charan Singh - but the political and bureaucratic structures of those times were not as caste-oriented as they are today. This is bound to increase Gupta’s dependen ce on Rajnath Singh.

Mishra and Tandon, on the other hand, have other problems. In addition to the disappointment of losing the race, they find that their supporters are resentful at having been kept out of the Ministry. Among the aspirants for ministerial berths were two fo rmer Ministers whom Kalyan Singh had dropped - Ravindra Shukla, dropped following the controversy over the directive to make the recitation of "Vande Mataram" and "Saraswati Vandana" compulsory in schools, and Devendra Singh Bhole, for criticising the th en Chief Minister’s style of functioning. Dr. Surjit Singh Dang, the only Sikh MLA, and Rajesh Pandey, a senior Member of the Legislative Council, too had hoped to become Ministers.

In the end, Gupta inducted only two new Ministers of State, Seema Rizvi and Ram Babu Harit. Both these appointments were made with an eye on two key political constituencies - Muslims and the Scheduled Castes. Further, Dhanraj Yadav, a Minister of State under Kalyan Singh, was elevated to Cabinet rank. This too was done with caste equations in mind.

The disappointment in the anti-Kalyan Singh camp was accentuated by the fact that Gupta did not drop Ministers who were considered close to the deposed Chief Minister. Many key activists in the campaign to have Kalyan Singh replaced had hoped to fill the ministerial positions vacated by Kalyan Singh’s associates. Their hopes soared on November 12 when only seven BJP Ministers were sworn in, although the "quotas" of alliance partners such as the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress (UPLC), the Janatantrik B ahujan Samaj Party (JBSP) and the Samata Party were filled up. This was seen as an indication of Gupta’s intention to ease out Ministers close to Kalyan Singh, principally Hukum Singh, Premalata Katiyar and Surya Pratap Shahi.

However, on November 17, when the Ministry was expanded, all of them were sworn in. A section of the anti-Kalyan Singh group interprets this as a move to isolate Kalyan Singh from his own supporters.

One thing is certain: the change of leadership has engendered bitterness not only among the deposed Chief Minister and his supporters but also among those who claim to have overthrown him. This bitterness is not a good sign for the BJP and its new govern ment.

THE initial signals from the dispensation hold no promise that the leadership change will bring any good to the State. When the campaign to have Kalyan Singh replaced was on, it was often claimed on behalf of the BJP that one of the factors that impeded good governance was the size of the 90-strong Ministry. The suggestion was that once Kalyan Singh was removed, the Ministry would be downsized. According to some central leaders, this issue came up when the proposal to remove Kalyan Singh was considered. It was raised with alliance partners too, and a few leaders of the UPLC and the JBSP reportedly agreed to consider the proposal. However, Gupta’s Ministry is 91-strong: all the Ministers belonging to the alliance partners have been reinducted, and addit ionally two BJP leaders have been taken in. Evidently, the compulsions of keeping the coalition afloat take precedence over other promises.

The new Chief Minister’s response to some of the controversial appointments made by Kalyan Singh during his last days in office, including the appointment of Lucknow Municipal Council member Kusum Rai as chairperson of the State Women’s Commission, point s to an inclination to take the path of least resistance. At least half a dozen others were similarly rewarded with chairmanships of corporations: Raj Narayan Bhind (Mandi Parishad), O.P. Singh (Seed Corporation), Dr. Anupam Alok (Forest Corporation) and Vinod Singh (Sugar Corporation). Kalyan Singh also transferred about 200 senior bureaucrats and police officers during his last 10 days in power.

Gupta is unlikely to reverse these measures; the beneficiaries of Kalyan Singh’s largesse are thus likely to continue in their positions.

WHAT, then, do the BJP and the State stand to gain from Kalyan Singh’s removal? It appears that the only tangible difference now is that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was bent on removing Kalyan Singh from office, is pleased. So keen was he to attain this objective that he found time to discuss it with party colleagues even as the nation was coming to terms with the cyclone devastation in Orissa. Home Minister L.K. Advani and his supporters wished to see Kalyan Singh continue as Chief Ministe r, and BJP president Kushabhau Thakre was sympathetic to this line. But Vajpayee had his way.

On November 3 and 4, the BJP National Executive met in New Delhi to discuss Uttar Pradesh. Here, Vajpayee insisted that he would settle for nothing short of Kalyan Singh’s removal. Murli Manohar Joshi backed Vajpayee. He put forward an old proposal - tha t Kalyan Singh, who belongs to a backward class, be replaced by a person from a forward caste. The allegation that Kalyan Singh had sabotaged the BJP’s chances in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh in concert with Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, who too belongs to a backward class, was repeated. Thakre then said that the leadership was thinking of taking "corrective measures" in Uttar Pradesh.

Thakre made a set of suggestions to enable Kalyan Singh to make an honourable exit but Kalyan Singh rejected all these proposals in the belief that with the backing of Advani and others such as party general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, he would continu e in office. Advani and Co. supported Kalyan Singh on the basis of the argument that Other Backward Classes such as Kurmis and Lodh Rajputs were the mainstay of the BJP in the State and that large sections of people belonging to these caste groups owed their allegiance to Kalyan Singh. At the end of the National Executive meeting, Kalyan Singh exuded confidence; returning to Lucknow, he asserted that there was no move to remove him.

But in the next four days, reality caught up with him. The central leadership announced that Gupta would be appointed in his place. A shaken Kalyan Singh went on the offensive: he made a trip to the makeshift temple at the site of the demolished Babri Ma sjid at Ayodhya and accused the Prime Minister of not giving adequate attention to the BJP’s basic campaign themes. He followed this up with the appointment of his supporters in key posts. For the next few days, he kept the central leadership on tenterho oks on the matter of precisely when he would submit his resignation. Finally, he handed over his resignation letter to Governor Suraj Bhan on the morning of November 11, barely a few hours before Gupta was to be elected leader of the BJP Legislature Party.

IN the final analysis, even the choice of Gupta is an indication that the central leadership acknowledges Kalyan Singh’s clout. That none of Kalyan Singh’s detractors such as Mishra, Tandon and Rajnath Singh was chosen reflects the inability or reluctanc e of the leadership to go all out against Kalyan Singh. The same applies to the retention of Kalyan Singh’s supporters in the Ministry. In fact, at a meeting of the State leadership of the party on November 11 and 12, Mishra, Tandon and Rajnath Singh had pressed for the removal of some of Kalyan Singh’s close supporters from the Ministry and Gupta reportedly agreed to do so. However, this plan was torpedoed by some nifty counter-moves by Govindacharya and Advani. Govindacharya rushed to Delhi to inform Advani of the move; Advani said he would not attend the swearing-in if Kalyan Singh’s supporters were dropped. He made it clear that the State leaders should wait for Vajpayee, who was abroad, to return and take a final decision. After Vajpayee returned, Advani held talks with him; by all indications, this led to the retention of all of Kalyan Singh supporters in the Ministry.

Given the fact that Kalyan Singh has his own people in the Ministry and in the BJP Legislature Party, he will continue to be a force in the State BJP. He also has a good rapport with a large number of MLAs of the UPLC and the JBSP. However, the section o f the BJP that has the support of Tandon and Mishra reportedly plans to initiate moves to focus attention on allegations that he was working in tandem with the S.P. during the Lok Sabha elections; its intention is to force the former Chief Minister to ta ke extreme steps and get him expelled from the party. This section apparently has a new plan to build up the BJP in the State.

One thing, however, is certain. Despite his being a "compromise candidate", Gupta will find the going tough. And as BJP insiders admit, Gupta’s elevation has not ended the fireworks in the party. In fact, the post-Diwali change of leadership has merely given a new dimension to political pyrotechnics in the Uttar Pradesh BJP.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 25, Nov. 27 - Dec. 10, 1999.

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