BJP may use Paswan to erode base of BSP in U.P.
By P. K. Roy
LUCKNOW, MARCH 31. The steady expansion of the political base of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, as underscored by the recent Assembly by-election results, is sought to be effectively neutralised by the BJP through the Lok Janashakti Party led by the Union Minister, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan. His popularity among his sub- caste, Pasis, could be gauged from the various poll meetings addressed by him in Pasi- dominated areas of the Hydergarh Assembly constituency, where he is soliciting votes for the Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh.
The BSP, in the recently concluded Assembly by-poll in the three constituencies, caused a stir in political circles by winning the Sibal Khas seat in the Baghpat parliamentary constituency of Mr. Ajit Singh. Sibal Khas, dominated by Jats, has all along been considered a pocket borough of the Charan Singh family. The BSP had also finished second in the remaining two constituencies, causing worry both to the BJP and the SP, more to the latter. The message was not lost on the political observers, since all three constituencies were situated in western U.P. where the BSP base was not considered very significant so far. Leaders of both the BJP and the SP acknowledge that this rising phenomenon of the BSP has to be check-mated and political observers do not rule out tacit understanding between the two in several constituencies in the future. Leaders of both parties have exchanged assessments at an informal level in the recent past. One has to wait for the outcome of the by-poll in Sadabad, a seat won by the BJP in 1996, and Hydergarh, where the Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, is in the fray. That the Chief Minister did not take chances in Sadabad, a seat won by the party in 1996, is eloquent.
The BJP is unsure even at this stage of its prospect of retaining the seat, where the BSP and Mr. Ajit Singh's RLD are giving it a run for its money. Although Mr. Rajnath Singh have bright prospect of winning the Hydergarh seat, the BSP may be the runner up. If the Samajwadi Party finishes behind the BSP in both the Assembly seats, which cannot be ruled out, Mr. Mulayam Singh's political stock would sustain a rude shock in Uttar Pradesh, with an unpredictable fall-out.
In that case, the Muslim vote bank which has stood solidly behind him over the past decade, over the Ayodhya developments, may shift towards the BSP. And a combination of dalits and Muslims would surely push up the BSP as the main rival of the BJP in the State.
The BJP game plan now is to split the dalit vote base of the BSP in U.P. through Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan.
In the BSP's dalit support base Chamars constitute the overwhelming segment, the caste to which Ms. Mayawati belongs. The Chamars are considered Brahmins or the creamy layers among the dalits. The benefits of job reservations have largely gone to this powerful segment, leaving others to sulk, as Yadavs have benefited similarly among the OBCs.
The Pasis of U.P., who constitute the second largest segment among dalits, look forward to a leader of their sub-caste, ired over the inferior position accorded by the Chamars in general and the BSP in particular. Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, had so long concentrated in Bihar, but of late, he has set his eyes on U.P. additionally.
A number of former BSP MLAs who had defected to prop up the BJP government in U.P. have of late joined the Lok Janashakti Party in U.P. Mr. Paswan had organised several rallies. And he plans to field candidates in the next assembly elections in U.P. as an NDA partner.
Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan does not speak in his meetings as a typical dalit leader, castigating the upper castes, as BSP leaders openly do. He dwells on the national issues and points out that there were several leaders belonging to upper castes in his party in Bihar. But most telling is the style of functioning of Ms. Mayawati as BSP leader wherein only one chair is kept for her in meetings and the rest, including former ministers, the State party chief and MLAs are made to sit on the floor. This imperious style of functioning of Ms. Mayawati and her casteist approach, does not go well with Pasis and other non-Chamar Dalits.
The BJP had been winning most of the reserved seats for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha from U.P., but has not so far been able to prop up a dalit leader of stature. It had first experimented with the induction of Suraj Bhan, a dalit BJP leader from Haryana, as Governor of U.P. However, more than promoting the BJP image, Mr. Suraj Bhan began projecting himself as a dalit leader, creating controversies and embarrassment for the BJP at the state and national level. He had to be shifted to Himachal Pradesh.
The induction of Bangaru Laxman as party president was another experiment of the party to attract dalits to BJP, besides the Muslims. However the Tehelka controversy has taken its toll and Bangaru Laxman has left the biggest ever controversy for the saffron party.
The dalit leaders of BJP in U.P. feel that he has been a victim of a conspiracy, being a dalit, and must be rehabilitated. And the wily Mayawati seized upon the resignation of Bangaru Laxman to assert that the BJP was anti-dalit. Likewise, she had bemoaned when Mr. Suraj Bhan, whom she never spared, was shifted to Himachal Pradesh.