All eyes on UP polls
By Ambikanand Sahay
LUCKNOW: It was not for nothing that Mulayam Singh Yadav recently addressed a conclave of Brahmins in Varanasi and a convention of intellectuals in Allahabad. The Samajwadi Party leader, whose political fortunes have been on the upswing since the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, is a master strategist.
He knows that Brahmins symbolise the mood swings of the upper castes best. He also knows that the other three major vote-banks in caste-conscious UP - Muslims, Dalits and backwards - stand more or less rigid in their political persuasions.
While backwards, mainly Yadavs, and Muslims stand solidly behind his own party, Dalits support the Kanshiram-Mayawati duo aggressively. It's only the upper castes that are flexible in their political leanings. And, more importantly, its this social grouping - which forms the backbone of the middle class - that is getting disenchanted with the NDA government for various reasons. The middle class had supported the BJP wholeheartedly in the previous assembly elections. But they are looking for other options now.
In the Shahjehanpur Lok Sabha byelection, the upper castes were divided between the Congress and the BJP. That was why the Congress candidate could poll 1.28 lakh votes, pushing the BSP and the BJP nominees to the third and fourth positions respectively. The Samajwadi party candidate won the seat for the simple reason that he was backed by two major social groupings - backwards and Muslims. The lesson from Shahjehanpur is that whoever commands the support of two of the four major votebanks will win in four-cornered contests. And UP promises to present a four-cornered fight this time, the major players being the SP, the BSP, the BJP and the Congress.
The picture is somewhat different in Bihar, where the Congress is holding on to the apron-strings of the Rabri Devi government. The upper castes don't have much of a choice here. They are supporting the NDA for the simple reason that their anger over the Laloo brand of politics is stronger than their disenchantment with the BJP. Unlike in UP, there are only two major forces in Bihar - the RJD and the NDA.
But, for the moment, all eyes are focused on the UP polls, later this year or early next year depending on the confidence level of CM Rajnath Singh. Singh enjoys a clean image. Observers in Lucknow have reason to believe that he has at least halted the downward slide of the BJP, which was earlier plagued by the non-performance of the Ram Prakash Gupta government.
However, thanks to the caste struggle that is still on in the BJP, the CM's efforts have failed to generate hope among the middle class. The Brahmin-Thakur rivalry in Lucknow is to be seen to be believed. And banias seem to be an aggrieved lot.
In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the strength of the Congress had risen from zero to 10 in UP, thanks to the division in upper caste votes. Now that the middle class is even more disenchanted with the BJP, it's likely that a sizable section among them will support the Congress.
But why is the middle class so annoyed with the BJP? According to some RSS leaders, there are three basic reasons: first, it is no longer the party with a difference; the Tehelka tapes have made it clear that some of its leaders are as corrupt as anybody else. This apart, the party is bedevilled by groupism. Secondly, its swadeshi image has been diluted beyond repair. And finally, where has its posture of aggressive nationalism gone?
While reacting to the NDA's poll debacle in the recent elections, the Prime Minister observed that the warning bell had been sounded. The party's leaders, who are meeting in Mussoorie from Sunday, are expected to do some soul-searching and come up with concrete answers to their problems.
Significantly, activities have been stepped up at the VHP's workshops at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya.