Debating India

VERDICT 2004

Decisive defeat for Hindutva

Purnima S. TRIPATHI

Friday 4 June 2004, by TRIPATHI*Purnima S.

ALL India Congress Committee general secretary Oscar Fernandes told Frontline in an interview sometime back that the Congress realised its weakness in Uttar Pradesh but was not in a position to do much about it and that it hoped that in a quadrangular fight, where the votes would get divided, the relevance of U.P. in national politics would diminish. This, he said, would ensure that even if the Congress put up a dismal performance in U.P., the outcome in the State would not be a stumbling block in the party’s march to power at the Centre. How prophetic it sounds now.

Elections 2004 now appear to have disproved the popular belief that the way to Delhi is essentially via U.P.

The two major parties in the State, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which appeared to hold the key to power at the Centre, seem to have lost their relevance in national politics for the time being as they have no major role to play in the government formation. The S.P., which put up an exemplary performance despite the conspiracy hatched by the BJP to paint it saffron and confuse Muslim voters, and which hoped to play the king-maker in the post-poll scenario, has been forced to become a mere bystander in the power game unfolding in Delhi. The imperious BSP leader, Mayawati, who had spurned offers of alliance from the Congress, has also been reduced to irrelevance to the extent that she has been forced to run to the Congress with the offer of "unconditional support". The irony of the situation is that the Congress, which had desperately sought an alliance with her before the elections, does not appear to need her support now.

What is astounding about the U.P. results is the defeat of the Hindutva forces. It is also a tribute to the intelligence of the voters at large: the way they have rebuffed the "India Shining" and "Feel Good" shams, despite the misleadingly benign presence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s own candidature in Lucknow and the declarations by the Arun Jaitleys and the Pramod Mahajans that "there is an undercurrent of surge for a second term for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee".

The S.P. improved substantially upon its 1999 performance winning 36 of the 80 seats.. It had 28 seats in the dissolved House. Its electoral ally, the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, won three seats, one seat more than its previous tally. This was possible despite the campaign by the BJP to drive the Muslim voters away from the S.P. fold by claiming that the party was "ideologically closer" to the BJP and could join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the event of a hung Parliament. Even Vajpayee said this in his speeches. But the ploy did not work. The S.P.’s tally shows that Muslims voted for the party wherever its candidates were in a position to defeat the BJP. The theory, well-documented in these pages, that Muslims would vote tactically in order to defeat the BJP despite its overtures to the community was proved right. This is best illustrated by the fact that even in Rampur, a Muslim-dominated constituency where the Congress’ Begum Noor Bano held sway, Muslims supported the S.P.’s non-Muslim candidate, Jayaprada, enabling her to win with a margin of over 85,474 votes. Another example of the minority community’s preferences was seen in Kaiserganj where Arif Mohammad Khan, a recent convert to the BJP, was defeated by the S.P.’s Beni Prasad Verma by over two lakh votes.

Interestingly, not only Muslims but even upper-caste Hindu voters, it appears, voted in large numbers for the S.P. "The caste factor went against us. Our traditional Thakur and Brahmin voters turned away from us and voted for either the S.P. or the Congress," said a senior BJP leader, trying to explain the party’s dismal showing. The BJP, which had claimed that it would win 50-plus seats, got only 10, despite the much-hyped Kalyan Singh factor. In fact, the former Chief Minister barely managed to save his Bulandshahar seat - he won by just 16, 651 votes. The BJP’s Thakur voters, it appears, have shifted to the S.P. while the Brahmins have returned to the Congress. "The BJP was under the impression that it had a copyright on the Brahmin and Thakur voters. But in reality, the Brahmins were so upset with the BJP for ignoring them that they have gone back to Congress, while the Thakurs, angered by the Raja Bhaiya episode and the isolation of their community within the party, have gone to the S.P.," explained Dr. Manoj Mishra, a BJP-affiliated psephologist, who was part of the "poll management" team of Pramod Mahajan.

But it is not only the S.P. that has gained by this strange movement of votes. The BSP increased its tally from 14 in 1999 to 19. The most significant aspect of the U.P. results, however, is the trouncing of the most ardent advocates of Hindutva such as Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Minister of State for Home Swami Chinmayanand, BJP State president and former Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar, and another outspoken proponent of the Ram temple movement Swami Ram Vilas Vedanti. While Joshi lost to the S.P.’s Reoti Raman Singh by a margin of 28,383 votes in Allahabad, Katiyar was relegated to the third position in Lakhimpur Kheri where the S.P.’s Ravi Prakash Verma defeated the BSP’s Daud Ahmad. Swami Chinmayanand was also relegated to the third position in Jaunpur where Parasnath Yadav of the S.P. defeated the BSP’s Om Prakash Dubey.

Interestingly, the BJP, which claims to be promoting the cause of Hindutva, has been ousted in all three favourite spots of the Sangh Parivar: Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. In Faizabad, which includes Ayodhya, the BSP’s Mitrasen Yadav defeated Lallu Singh of the BJP while in Mathura, Manvendra Singh of the Congress defeated Laxminarayan of the BSP. The BJP was nowhere in the race. In Kashi, which is part of the Varanasi constituency, Dr. Rajesh Mishra of the Congress defeated the BJP’s Shankar Prasad Jaiswal by 57,436 votes. Similarly, Swami Ram Vilas Vedanti, who faced Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, was trounced decisively. Yet another BJP stalwart, Kesrinath Tripathi, who is also the U.P. Assembly Speaker, was defeated in Machlishahar.

Kalyan Singh, whose return to the BJP was expected to fetch 20-25 seats for the party, could not influence any seat even in his stronghold of Aligarh and its surrounding constituencies. There is a clear message for the BJP: the U.P. voters have decisively rejected its brand of Hindutva.

As for the Congress, even the magic of Rajiv Gandhi’s children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra could not help the party improve on its 1999 performance: its tally remained at nine.

But where do the respective parties go from here? "We are better off on our own. Taking either of them (the S.P. or the BSP) along would mean becoming dependent on them while we are in a position now to stand on our own feet. After a few years of work, we will be strong enough to return to power in Uttar Pradesh," senior Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai said.

As for the BJP, it is chintan (introspection) time once again but there is a strong possibility that the party will revert to the hardline posture. "Diluting our ideological plank has not helped. Development or Atal Bihari’s moderate image has not fetched us votes whereas Advani’s rath yatra had catapulted us to victory," a senior leader said.. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh appears to be supporting this viewpoint. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav claimed that the BJP was trounced because it had lost its ideological moorings.

For the S.P. and the BSP, it seems like a long haul ahead, despite their exemplary performance. They don’t seem to have too many choices either. With a rejuvenated Congress set to reclaim its dominant position in U.P., they have reasons to worry. The Congress’ rise would mean a shifting of the vote base of Dalits and Muslims, which will affect the BSP and the S.P. respectively. "They were both averse to aligning with us because they have thrived at the cost of Dalit and Muslim votes. If the Congress is seen to be reviving in U.P. then even Brahmins would dump the BJP. The Congress is on a comeback trail in Uttar Pradesh," party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic 2 : RAMESH SHARMA ; Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav with party general secretary Amar Singh, Jayaprada, who won the Rampur seat, and son Akhilesh Yadav, who was elected from Kannauj, at a meeting in Lucknow with the newly elected MPs of the party.

Pic 3 : RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/AP ; Bahujan Samajwadi Party president Mayawati.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 11, May 22 - Jun 04, 2004.

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