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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Failure of secular parties
Whom to vote and whom not to, ponder Muslims
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: The failure of the secular parties to forge a united front to fight the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh may result in the split in the minority votes in the state. The situation may thrust a four-cornered contest which will serve as a god-send opportunity to the Bharatiya Janata Party to fare better in the polls. The non-BJP parties — the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress — are themselves to be blamed for this state of affairs.

On its part, the Congress tried its best to forge a secular front owing to its own compulsion. The Congress knew it well that it wanted to have crutches to retain its seats and what to say of improving its position. From the very beginning it was clear that the Samajwadi Party and the BSP would never join hands because of the personality clash between the leaders of the two parties. Community leaders, particularly the Milli Council, tried their best to bring the two parties to a single platform but it did not bear fruit. Now the two parties, particularly the Samajwadi Party, are trying to block an alliance by the other with the Congress since such a tie-up will hamper their respective chances.

The BJP’s best bet lies in a quadrangular contest among them, the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the Congress. In that scenario, there will be a split in the anti-BJP minority votes among the other three parties. The BJP then can at least hope of retaining its third position in the seat tally after the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, if it does not fare better.

Muslims, who comprised nearly 19 per cent of the total electorate in the state, hold the key to the success of candidates in several Lok Sabha constituencies. Muslim concentration is in western UP, Rohilkhand and some areas in central and eastern parts of the state. The highest Muslim concentration is in Rampur with 48 per cent followed by Saharanpur, Amroha, Moradabad, Bijnore, Bareilly, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Aligarh, Bahraich and Deoria. The Election Commission had published voters’ list in Urdu in 130 Assembly constituencies where Urdu-knowing voters accounted for 20 or more per cent. This apparently meant that the Muslim voters amounted to more than 20 per cent in these constituencies. In UP, five Assembly segments form a Lok Sabha constituency.

After the BJP parted company with the BSP in August last year, the former was assiduously trying to divide the anti-BJP and secular votes in a bid to perform well in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP found the BSP chief Ms Mayawati difficult to handle during the tenure of the BJP-BSP coalition government. So it installed a more friendly and obliging government led by the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. The BJP went out of way to install the Yadav government. The state governor, a former RSS man, invited Mr Yadav to form the government and swore him as chief minister despite the fact that his coalition did not have a majority in the Assembly at that time. The Assembly Speaker, Kesri Nath Tripathi, a BJP leader, helped Mr Yadav in splitting the BSP when 44 legislators belonging to the latter joined the Samajwadi Party.
Some of the actions and statements by the Samajwadi Party leaders, including Mr Yadav, gave credence to the latter’s reported closeness to the BJP. Soon after he took over as the chief minister, Mr Yadav announced that the Ayodhya issue was not important for him. Later his government did not object to the dropping of the Section 120B of the Cr.P.C. regarding the conspiracy angle by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Ayodhya demolition case against BJP leaders including the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani while submitting its supplementary affidavit in the court. 

Moreover, despite demands from the Congress, an ally supporting the ruling Samajwadi Party government, Mr Yadav refused to remove Mr Tripathi from the Speaker ship of the Assembly. Mr Yadav also did not split the BJP Legislature Party, obviously as a courtesy, though many of the MLAs of that party were ready to join the Samajwadi Party. His statement a couple of months later that his party had performed better in the Hindu-concentrated areas than in the Muslim-dominated areas had created ripples among the Muslim leaders, who described the statement as ‘unwarranted’. As a corollary of these developments, the chairman of the coordination committee of the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the centre and the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, recently made a significant statement that his socialist colleague, Mr Yadav was not in the NDA but ‘he is a friend of the alliance’!

Mr Yadav and other Samajwadi Party leaders, however, stoutly deny the charges that the party was close to the BJP and assert that its fight against the communal forces will continue. The Samajwadi Party claims that its government did maximum for the welfare of the Muslims. In a ‘white paper’ issued by the Samajwadi Party recently, it said that 13 major steps had been taken by its government for the uplift of the Muslims. These include the introduction of accidental death insurance for the Haj pilgrims, setting up of Shanti Suraksha Bal, appointment of 6131 Urdu teachers and 5000 translators/ clerks and granting legal status to the Minority Commission. 

Both the BJP and the Samajwadi party do not want the Congress to ally with the BSP for the obvious reason that it will seriously affect their prospects in the polls. The BJP is using the Taj Corridor case to keep Ms Mayawati away from the Congress. Ms Mayawati is apparently afraid of the consequences in the case if the NDA is returned to power at the centre after the Lok Sabha elections. If she is now allied with the Congress, the new NDA government may, as a vengeance, pin her down in the case. In fact, the CBI did not contest the stay on her arrest given by the court. If the CBI had contested the stay and she was arrested, Ms Mayawati should have gone all out against the BJP. Now the case hangs over as a Damocles sword on her. On the other hand, the Samajwadi Party leaders were counseling the Congress against a tie-up with the BSP on the ground that the latter was a corrupt party. At the same time, the Samajwadi Party was not very enthusiastic for a viable tie-up with the Congress.

On the part of the BSP, it was ready for an electoral alliance with the Congress only if the latter withdrew its support to the Yadav government which that party was hesitant to do. In fact the Congress was eager for a national-level poll pact with the BSP, than the Samajwadi party, because the dalit party has pockets of influence in other states like Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.

If the Congress-BSP pact was materialized, the minority community should have been a viable alternative in the alliance and would have indulged in tactical voting to defeat the BJP. In the last elections too, the community had indulged in tactical voting to a certain account and the beneficiary then was the Samajwadi Party as its candidates were considered better to defeat the BJP nominees. The BJP is in a bad shape in UP and a BSP-Congress front should have damaged its prospects. This should have dashed its hope of returning to power at the centre as the politically important state sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. Such an alliance should have affected the fortunes of the Samajwadi Party badly. On the contrary, it should have helped both the BSP and the Congress to perform better. ¤

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