BJP examines another tie-up with Mayawati in UP

By Bhaskar Roy

NEW DELHI: With its inner councils convinced that the party faces near-certain defeat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections early next year, the BJP is being forced to consider stratagems which it had earlier thought unthinkable. One of them is to team up again with the BSP in the hope of stalling the possible return of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.

``We cannot hope to win more than 60 seats in the 425-member Assembly,'' a senior party leader from the state confided. But mere acceptance of that possibility does not give the party bosses any comfort. In the aftermath of the BJP's wipeout in the panchayat elections Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is to shortly call a meeting of his senior party colleagues to formally take a decision to remove chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta. But even a belated change of leadership in UP may not be enough to extricate the BJP from the shifting sands of caste equations in the state.

Gupta's replacement by another man -- Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Santosh Gangwar are being mentioned -- does not make too much of a difference. For it is too late for any leader now to even attempt to reverse the trends which have already firmed up. After the departure of the Backwards from the party's vote-bank with the ouster of Kalyan Singh, its base is indeed thin and fragile.

As a result, party insiders say the BJP has been forced to consider supporting Mayawati once again, directly or indirectly. That, they say, will be less damaging than leaving the field free for a takeover by Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party.

But Mayawati is acting cagey. Still bitter about the way the BJP broke her party to gain a majority in the House, Mayawati is unwilling to even acknowledge the possibility of returning to power with the BJP's support. She is certainly against any pre-poll alliance. ``I do not want any tie-up. If any party wants to support me, it can'' she is reported to have remarked.

Mayawati is apprehensive because any mention of an alliance with the BJP would scare the Muslims away from her party.

The BSP, according to one analysis, has the support of about two per cent of the state's Muslim population in addition to another four per cent of the most backward castes. Add this to her primary base of 17 per cent solid Dalit support, and the arithmetic takes her total vote to about 25 per cent.

On the basis of this support base she can take her tally to about 100-110 seats. Indirect support from the BJP can raise the BSP tally to about 150, UP observers point out. Still, she refuses to broach the issue of any alliance at this juncture.

In an interesting reversal of fortunes, it is the BJP which seems to have become the new untouchable in UP. That adds one more to Vajpayee's list of home state problems.

Problem One: At a time when the upper castes are the party's mainstay after it has lost its Backward support, even a hint of an alliance with Mayawati is likely to trigger discontent if not an outright revolt by the upper caste-dominated UP unit of the party.

Problem Two: If the Samajwadi Party returns to power in Lucknow it is sure to have an adverse impact on Vajpayee's coalition government at the Centre as some of the BJP's allies may think twice about their future in the NDA.

Response: Now that the party's so-called social engineering experiment of caste synthesis has failed, the BJP is likely to play an upper caste card trying for a consolidation of its existing support groups. The calculation is that after the elections it can play the role of king-maker if not king. That is where the Mayawati option comes in.

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