Poll-scared in UP, BJP badmouths reforms
Indian Express: Sankarshan Thakur
New Delhi: NERVOUS at the prospect of losing Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has begun to badmouth reforms by pressing the Vajpayee government to project what it calls a pro-poor, rural-centric face in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
BJP bosses are believed to have demanded that Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha take measures to ''undo'' the ''tilt in favour of cities and upper classes'' hoping that this will help the party regain some of its lost ground.
The party is currently formulating a list of economic measures that it thinks will come handy in the polls and is likely to place it formally before government leaders at the next meeting of the BJP executive scheduled in a few weeks. ''There is need for discussion on the issue and some urgent steps because our feedback is that at least in the rural areas, wrong signals have gone about the government's economic policies, we are seen as too pro-rich and not bothered about the lot of the rural poor,'' said a senior BJP office-bearer. ''This image has to be corrected."
Although he would not specify what specific changes the party was thinking of, he hinted that the BJP was keen on securing additional economic concessions for the most backward classes (MBCs) and for farmers ''along the lines of the recent decisions of our government in the state.'' The Rajnath Singh government recently appointed a ministerial committee to examine the possibilities for granting special quotas to the MBCs in government jobs and educational institutions in a bid to swing them over to the party. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh himself is expected to bring suggestions for the finance minister when the executive meets.
The sudden soul-searching on economic issues in the BJP-along the course it has followed in the Congress, where Arjun Singh has constantly fought Manmohanomics with the need for adopting a ''pro-poor'' position-has been prompted by the consistently bad news emanating from the state.
The BJP's fortunes have been on the decline and one recent poll (MODE-Sofres in The Week) suggests that the party's tally may plunge as low as 20-30 seats in the 403-member state assembly.
A defeat in UP could well have repercussions on the Centre and further erode the Vajpayee government's political credibility; BJP allies fared poorly in the last round of Assembly polls and BJP leaders fear that the loss of UP could become the rallying hour of the Opposition.
Although even the BJP's worst adversaries are not taking the poll at face value, there is a growing impression that party is set to be bundled out of power. Commenting on the opinion survey, one senior BJP leader said, ''It is a laughable conclusion they have reached but the fact is that things are not very much better for our party in the state. Most political battles are first lost in the head and even senior party leaders in the state have mentally lost the battle, that is the difficulty and that is why we need morale boosters from the Centre.''
Their dismal performance in the Shahjahanpur Lok Sabha bypoll is still hanging heavy on the BJP's consciousness and party leaders have been at a loss to discover ways to stop the balance tilting against them. The BJP came a poor fourth in Shahjahanpur and still has not offered a reasonable explanation for its loss of form.
On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP), which won Shahjahanpur, appears to be on a roll all across the state (The Week poll gave the SP 180-200 seats on its own); on the evidence of Shahjahanpur, the SP has expanded its caste base and secured support among upper caste Rajputs (Chief Minister Rajnath Singh's caste) and backward communities like the Lodhs (former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh's caste).
It is essentially to break this new consolidation of caste groups behind the SP that the UP government has begun tempting the MBCs with fresh promises of exclusive quotas.