|CURRENT ISSUE NOVEMBER 4, 2002|
STATES: UTTAR PRADESH
|Holding for Now|
As rebellion erupts in the state BJP, Mulayam Singh begins poaching. But with the Congress noncommittal, Mayawati may be safefor a while.
The BJP obviously believes that if you ignore a problem for long enough, it is likely to go away. In 1997, when Devendra Singh Bholey, a minister in the Kalyan Singh cabinet in Uttar Pradesh, hurled his resignation letter at the chief minister and walked out, the party simply looked the other way. Last year, it turned a blind eye to cross-voting by 27 MLAs and MLCs that ensured the defeat of BJP candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections. Party leaders kept mum when more than half a dozen MPs campaigned against official BJP candidates in the last assembly elections. It seems to have become a habit, for last week, when 27 of its MLAs and MLCs openly defied the party high command, the leadership continued to pretend nothing was amiss.
The latest rebellion was triggered by Chief Minister Mayawati's October 12 cabinet expansion, which saw the inclusion of 57 ministers of the BSP, BJP and their allies. Dissension immediately broke out in the BJP. One minister of state, Lallu Singh, refused to be sworn in; another, Phagu Chauhan, threw tantrums at not being given a "lucrative portfolio". Within days, the number of the disgruntled grew-senior leaders like Harish Chand Srivastava, Narendra Singh Gaur and Ganga Bhakt Singh, who were denied cabinet berths, came together with those who lost their jobs in the cabinet expansion. What especially rankled was that many first-timers like Ameeta Modi and Ajay Rai had managed to become ministers.
There were problems on other fronts too. MLCs were livid that no member of the Legislative Council was included in the Cabinet. They found unexpected support from the 12 Independents who had not been assigned ministerial berths.
These developments warmed Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav's heart. He flew into Lucknow and had discussions with Kalyan, while his emissaries began to contact the rebels. Later, sp General Secretary Amar Singh also reached Lucknow and met the BJP dissidents and Independents. Later, he feigned innocence and said he was in town to attend a birthday party. However, given the composition of the current Assembly, Mulayam's dream of snatching power from Mayawati is unlikely to come true unless the Congress evinces interest (see graphic).
The BJP rebels have floated a parallel outfit, the BJP Bachao Samiti (Save the BJP), with Ganga Bhakt Singh as convener and Ramashish Rai, former national president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, as president. "BJP ministers should resign and the party should give only outside support to the coalition government," Rai told india today. The Samiti members' ire is directed chiefly at the leader of the BJP Legislature Party Lalji Tandon, with some members even going to the extent of accusing senior leaders of taking money from ministerial aspirants. Says Rai: "How people like Ajay Rai and Ameeta Modi have became ministers should be investigated."
Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, an Independent, said he and others had been supporting the BJP since six years but retain "the option to choose new political partners." Cracks have surfaced in another BJP ally-the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Samarpal Singh, senior RLD leader, has demanded that his party withdraw support to an "anti-farmer NDA government" at the Centre in which his party leader is the Union minister for agriculture.
To some extent, the BJP's woes are self-inflicted. Veterans like Ganga Bhakt Singh have been in the party since the Jan Sangh days. Ramashish Rai was national president of the BJP youth wing-Shahnawaz Khan and Rajiv Pratap Rudy served under him. Today Khan and Rudy are ministers at the Centre while Rai is in political wilderness. "How long should I bear this injustice?" asks Rai.
Then, there's no one in the party's state unit who can act as a firefighter. State BJP President Vinay Katiyar is junior leader compared to the Tandon-Mishra-Rajnath trio. His lack of experience in organisational matters means that every BJP member is a law unto himself. In the current instance, by the time Katiyar pressed the damage control buttons-by visiting the dissenters-it was too late; the rebels had decided to stick to their guns. Even a late attempt by Rajnath to woo back the rebels came to nought. Rajnath had been specially assigned by the BJP high command to tame the dissidents but by late Thursday evening, it was clear his mission had failed.
The party leadership can only blame itself for its current state. In the past, dissidents were placated. It was no different this time. Soon after the meeting of the coordination committee on October 22, BJP state Vice-President Satyedev Singh told the media that Ramashish Rai and Ganga Bhakt Singh had been suspended from the party for "anti-party activities." But later that night, Katiyar was asked to adopt a soft line against them. It's a strategy that has proved costly for the BJP. And at the rate at which the rot is setting in, it may not be long before the BJP, a party that once occupied the top spot in the country's most populous state, slips off its political map.