The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 27, 2003
Lead Article

Tit for tat in ‘Ulta’ Pradesh
R. Suryamurthy

THE heartland of the country’s politics is rumbling again and, in the post-Mandal era, for the first time vibrations of social discontent can be felt clearly. The fiery statements, camera recordings and the lodging of numerous cases against political detractors are the new tools in the hands of politicians in Uttar Pradesh.

The undercurrents in these statements manifest the increasing social tension on caste and communal lines. Given the fact that the Lok Sabha polls are due next year and no party enjoys an absolute majority in the state assembly, each political outfit is attempting to eat into the base of the other to consolidate its hold.

Whatever we have done is not out of political vengeance, but as per rules. When action is taken against the daughter of a Dalit, no one speaks up. When she takes similar action, everyone speaks out. Is it not Manuwad?

— Mayawati, Chief Minister of UP

"The political situation in Uttar Pradesh is resulting in a polarisation on caste lines, which could result in dangerous consequences," according to noted political scientist Prof C. P. Bhambri of Jawaharlal Nehru University. "A no-holds-barred war along caste lines with open political patronage could be witnessed in the days to come. Fears are that the BJP, threatened with increasing caste polarisation, might play the communal card which would have a grave impact on the social fabric of the country," he adds.

This would result in social hatred as these leaders are raising the caste factor as an emotive issue. Further, the caste politics in the state is coming to be identified with the two main players—Mayawati and Mulayam Singh—and the other leaders of different caste groupings are aligning with these two parties.


She is setting a dangerous precedent. Next time somebody will institute an inquiry into the actions taken by the President. Mayawati misused funds of the discretionary quota while setting up Ambedkar Udyan.

— Motilal Vora, former Governor, Uttar Pradesh

And the latest episode of the lodging of cases against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and other party leaders like Amar Singh by the Uttar Pradesh government is not a knee-jerk reaction of the Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati to the release of the covert recording of the BSP’s workers’ meeting, where she had allegedly asked the party MPs and MLAs to deposit a part of the area development fund in the party’s coffers.

Rather, it is a continuation of a long series of events, which the leaders of the two parties have been using to heighten the social tension between different castes in the state to consolidate their political base and usurp the rival party’s political constituency.

Mayawati is not acting alone. The BJP is behind it. The way the BSP is alienating certain sections of society will result in a backlash. This is what leaders like Mayawati want as it would help them strengthen their hold on the dalits.

— Amar Singh, General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party

When the infamous POTA case was slapped against Independent MLA, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, and his father, the Samajwadi Party tried to take political mileage and project itself as the saviour of the Thakurs, who once dominated the social fabric of the state. They drilled home the fact that the "Thakur" was paying the price for criticising and whipping up anti-Mayawati sentiments.

The SP’s bid has, however, boomeranged on the party as the Dalits see the action of Mayawati as an act of social assertion and as a fitting reply to their prolonged suppression.

When the Congress, whose base in the state has now virtually been eroded, tried to make inroads into the Dalit vote bank with Priyanka Gandhi planning a Dalit home in Amethi, Mayawati reacted strongly.

The BSP victory in the byelection for the Gauriganj assembly segment in Amethi parliamentary constituency is significant because a Thakur has won the seat on the party’s ticket. Further, it indicates an increasing shift of upper caste support to the dalit party.

By helping a "Thakur" nominee of her party win the election, Mayawati has also tried to drive home the point that the arrest of Raja Bhaiyya has not affected the party’s attempts to woo the Thakurs. However, it sends out a clear message that the upper castes in the state have to make a hard political decision: to either be a partner of the Dalit-OBC combine or get marginalised.

Further, the BJP has been transforming itself in the state by accommodating the Dalits and OBCs in its decision- making process in a move to retain its political face in a state that is crucial politically because it sends 81 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The appointment of Vinay Katiyar, who belongs to the OBCs, is an indication that the party has come to terms with the reality that without the support of the Dalits and OBCs it cannot return to power.

The party, which has been largely dominated by the upper castes and the trader community, is maintaining a stoic silence over the charges being levied by its alliance partner, the BSP.

Analysts say the BJP finds itself in a corner as it cannot possibly contest the poll alone and secure a majority with its own caste configuration. As part of a long-term strategy, the party is aligning with the BSP in the hope that the dalits, as part of the larger Hindu vote bank, will swing towards the BJP.

However, the BSP, which has been growing in strength over the years with its single-point agenda of empowering the dalits, would like to see itself as their sole representative. And, with the sheer size of the dalit electorate in the state, it is emerging as a force to reckon with for any future government in the state.

While the BJP is trying to co-opt the dalit and middle-level peasantry, the Congress is trying to woo back the Muslims. However, the emerging social scenario points to an increasing political assertion by these castes and the whipping up of caste factor by political parties like the BSP and SP, resulting in a complicated relationship between people belonging to different social strata.

Analysts say volatile days are ahead in Uttar Pradesh. It is a test of survival for the BJP and a trial of pro-minority credentials for the BSP. The BJP will have to ensure that its upper-caste vote bank does not diminish. The BSP, which owes its good performance in the assembly elections to Muslim support, will have to ensure that Muslims continue to trust it.

If these two parties fail, it would be an advantage for the Congress and Samajwadi Party in the long term. The upper castes will start eyeing the Congress as an alternative to the BJP and the Muslims, who are still faithful to the SP to a large extent, will further get consolidated. A lot of political jugglery will be on display in Uttar Pradesh as both the BJP and the BSP perform the tight-rope walk.

Prof Zoya Hasan, JNU, says UP epitomises the political changes flowing from two fundamental sources of tension in the Indian polity. "In a milieu of slowly expanding opportunity, the conflict between different groups over access to the levers of the state has sharpened. And the formal system of political equality that universal adult franchise institutes, continually tends to collide with an inherited system of socio-economic inequality.

"This dual-textured conflict is fairly pervasive across India. In failing to provide any clues to its resolution, UP has failed to live up to its epithet of ‘the heartland’. And yet, the years ahead may well bring about a reversal of fortunes, since nowhere are the ruinous consequences more apparent than here," adds Hasan.

Finally, from the governance point of view, the state has precious little to show. Law and order in UP is bad and the power situation is worse, with people sometimes having to go without electricity for days on end. Industrial development has remained static, no major initiative has been taken and those that were taken earlier have made no progress.