Crisis in UP, India in turmoil
The Nation
October 23 , 1997
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, contributing 85 out of 545 seats, the largest number of MPs to Lok Sabha. Eight out of 13 Indian prime ministers since Partition have been from the UP. Thus, any political development in this state has a significant impact on the political future of India—which has entered yet another round of uncertainty as the Central Cabinet under prime minister Gujral has decided to impose presidential rule in the UP and dismiss its state assembly, Vidhan Sabha. The decision has been taken because the Hindu fundamentalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party, has secured a vote of confidence after gaining a simple majority vote of 222 out of 425 MPs.

Under the law, Indian president K R Narayanan is bound to act upon Cabinet’s decision. But, he has asked the Cabinet to reconsider the decision. Let’s see what happens! If a presidential rule was imposed in the State, defense minister Mulayam Singh Yadev, who heads Smajwadi Party (SP), will be the happiest person. Just to prevent a proxy rule of the state by Yadev through Governor Romesh Bhandari, the BJP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the two diametrically opposed parties, had formed a coalition government in the UP last March. Reportedly, the said Cabinet decision was made after a request to that effect was made by Governor Bhandari.

For over a year, since October 1996 elections, India has constantly been confronting a grave political crisis, which will only worsen with the latest episode of UP, eventually leading to the holding of mid-term polls—probably, as being predicted in the Indian media—by March next year.

Much of what has happened in the UP is in fact linked to the Dalit, lower caste, revolution against the upper caste Hindus—be they of Congress Party or the BJP. A revolution that started way back in 1984, when Dalit leader Kanshi Ram founded the BSP. Last March, the party had formed a coalition government with the BJP with the understanding that the office of the chief minister would be rotated between the two after six months. For the first six months, from March 21 to September 21, Mayawati, the State’s BSP chief, ruled the UP as chief minister, even though the office of the State Assembly Speaker was given to BJP’s Kesri Nath Tripathi. When last month, the time for the change of chief ministership came, the rift between the BJP and BSP became apparent, as the former nominated Kalyan Singh for chief ministership and insisted that the office of the Speaker would continue to be held by BJP’s Tripathi. The BSP had grievances against both.

Kalyan was one of the BJP hawks who were charge-sheeted by a special court of India’s Central Board of Investigation for demolishing the Babri Mosque. Another UP BJP leader Vinay Katyar, also a Kalyan man, was also charge-sheeted for his involvement in the said terrorist act. Since the Muslims contributed 12 out of 69 seats BSP had in the UP Assembly, the party had to oppose the chief ministership of Kalyan Singh.

The BSP leaders were concerned, as an Indian newspaper reported last month, as to “how can Muslims safety be guaranteed under a leader whom the courts have held prima facie guilty for such grave charges.” Prominent Muslim leaders in Lucknow, the state capital, had in fact filed two writ petitions in the High Court pleading that “a person who has been charged of criminal conspiracy, causing mutiny, damaging, demolishing places of worship and promoting enmity between classes even as he was occupying the high offices of chief minister, could not be entrusted with the state’s governance any more.”

As regards the Speaker’s office, the BSP feared that if both the offices of chief minister and Speaker went to BJP, the latter might try to split the BSP to engineer a simple majority for it in the Assembly.

That eventually happened, compelling the BSP to withdraw its support for the BJP. Another reason for this development is that Mayawati, during her six-month tenure as UP chief minister, as Indian magazine The Week (September 14) wrote in its editorial, “relentlessly pursued her pro-Dalit agenda, inspiring deep hostility in the upper and middle castes which constitute BJP’s vote bank.

But in the transfer of officials, or carving out and naming new districts, or the aggressive promotion of Dr Embedkar as a Dalit icon, she never consulted her coalition partner, insisting it was the chief minister’s prerogative to take policy decisions.” And, soon after coming to power, Singh tried to undo what Mayawati had done.

Wrote Gurmukh Singh in The Times of India (September 14), while quoting Kanshi Ram: “For Kanshi Ram, politics is all about power. ‘We have no permanent foes and friends, only permanent interests, our ultimate aim is to grab political power.’” That’s the crude description of Dalit’s revolution that may take India by storm in future as the conditions of its poverty-stricken lower caste, the untouchables—who are over 30 per cent of India’s total population—become worse with every passing day.

The BSP shared no ideology with the BJP. “One swears by Hindutva, the other by its demolition; one is for Ram Raj, the other for Dalit Raj; one is for status quo, the other is for change.” Yet the BSP made an alliance with the BJP. For, as Gurmukh concludes in his article, “Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.”

Neither the BJP nor the Congress nor Mulayam Singh’s SP are in favour of what the Dalits are up to accomplish in the UP and the rest of India. BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Atal Behari Vajpaee used to defend their alliance with the BSP by saying “a national tie-up will see upper classes and Dalits throughout the country move towards a new combination”.

So, when, last month, Kanshi objected to Kalyan Singh’s chief ministership on the basis of the charges against the latter’s involvement in Ayodhya’s disaster, Advani said, “Since the charge-sheet on Kalyan Singh in relation to Ayodhya case did not constitute ‘moral turpitude’ there was absolutely no reason for him not to assume the office”. (The Hindu, 15 September). Behind the scenes, however, the BJP is pursuing only one agenda: that of undoing its coalition arrangement with BSP the moment Mayawati leaves the office. It took the BJP just over a month to buy the votes of over 30 MPs, which helped it to win a vote of confidence. Had the threat to Indian establishment been only from Dalits, it would have been satisfied over the said event.

The fact is that both the BSP and the BJP, through their respective casteist and communal campaigns and missions, threaten to expose India’s hidden realities concerning the non-secular and caste-ridden nature of its socio-political setup.