Why Bhan was shunted

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

The sudden removal of Uttar Pradesh Governor Suraj Bhan has raised many eyebrows in Lucknow. Political circles were agog with speculation whether the decision was taken by Chief Minister Rajnath Singh or forced upon him by Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. Bhan will exchange places with Himachal Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri.

Political analysts believe that the traditionally upper caste Hindu- dominated Bharatiya Janata Party was either targeting upper caste votes, or it was out to woo Mayawati, who saw Bhan, a dalit, as a threat.

Bhan supporters believe that his assertive style of working alarmed the BJP leadership. While former chief minister Kalyan Singh had often raised objections against the governor's 'activism', Rajnath thought it best to have Bhan out of the way before any confrontation. Bhan asserted, "I have never believed in being a ceremonial figure." He took up tasks which no governor had - be it reforms in universities, including streamlining academic calendars and appointment of vice chancellors, or pointing out bunglings in implementation of dalit welfare schemes. His divisional-level meetings to get feedback on the state's development caused heartburns between him and Kalyan Singh. Bhan's became more emphatic and open about his strong dalit agenda after Kalyan's ouster.

He started a campaign against large-scale misappropriation of funds for dalit welfare and took it up with President K R Narayanan, who promptly set up a seven-member committee of governors to look into it. This was followed by whole-hearted patronage to a new dalit outfit of senior bureaucrats, police officers and other government employees, Rashtriya Arakshit Adhikari Evam Karamchari Mahasangh [National Federation of Reserved Category Employees].

While BJP sources were tight-lipped about the reasons behind the sudden move, political observers feel it had something to do with an "underhand deal" between the BJP and BSP.

Bhan supporters say it was done to appease Mayawati, who had sought his head as a pre-condition for an alliance with the BJP. Mayawati often declared her reservations about Bhan. She often alleged, "Bhan has been brought to counter my influence over dalits but it will have no effect on my following."

Even on Friday, after news of his removal, Bhan took the opportunity to recapitulate all he had done for dalit welfare since his student days in Punjab. "I started my mission long ago," he said, narrating how he had once brought a bill in the Lok Sabha seeking enactment of a law for implementation of reservations.

"The bill was defeated as my party was not in a majority, but it did make an impact as it was followed with the constitution of a parliamentary committee on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes." On what led to his shifting, he told ridiff.com, "How do I know? I had no prior inkling," but added, "frankly, I am happier to be closer to my home in Haryana. And since I know Himachal Pradesh like the palm of my hand, it won't be difficult for me to pursue my agenda there."

HP and UP governors to swap places
Pro-active Governor Suraj Bhan shifted out of UP Raj Bhavan
DH News Service

The controversial Uttar Pradesh Governor, Mr Suraj Bhan, whose "pro- active" style in Raj Bhavan had attracted criticism from the BJP, was today shifted to Himachal Pradesh, just a week after the new Chief Minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, took office.

Mr Vishnu Kant Shastri, Governor of Himachal Pradesh, will swap places with Mr Bhan and take over as Governor in Lucknow, a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said here this afternoon.

The shifting of Mr Bhan comes in the midst of reports that the ruling coalition led by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh had not taken kindly to his "pro-active and assertive" style of functioning. The swapping of places by the two was announced in the Rashtrapati Bhavan communique which said the two appointments will be for the remainder of their terms of office. Their appointments will take effect from the date they assume charge of their respective offices.

Mr Bhan, who took over as UP Governor in December last year, had raised a controversy sometime back when he sought details about the expenditure on government schemes for the welfare of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and had also hosted a function at Raj Bhavan involving RSS functionaries.

Meanwhile, Mr Shastri, who arrived here from Shimla, is leaving for Lucknow tomorrow to take charge. Mr Bhan, who is in Gujarat, is likely to reach Shimla on Sunday.

Mr Bhan, who had come to know about his shift, was in Delhi last week and unsuccessfully lobbied for his stay in Lucknow at least for two months. He tried to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L K Advani but they reportedly refused to meet him. Mr Bhan, who is believed to have spoken to President K R Narayanan on the telephone, tried to get more time as UP Governor so that he could complete the report of Governors' Committee on Dalits whose convenor he is.

Mr Vajpayee, who has not liked the way Mr Bhan conducted himself in the Lucknow Raj Bhavan, reportedly refused to accept Mr Bhan's request for not shifting him to Shimla. Mr Bhan had become assertive with the BJP functionaries as his son was not given a party ticket in Haryana. Mr Bhan, who belongs to Ambala, had a grouse that while the BJP leaders were promoting their sons in the party, his son was being ignored. Being a dalit, Mr Bhan had played a pro-active role as a champion of dalits and virtually assumed a second centre of power in Uttar Pradesh. Most of the BJP Dalit leaders and workers were trying to treat him as their leader. To further widen the rift between the BJP and the RSS, Mr Bhan started wooing RSS functionaries and even organised a RSS function in the Raj Bhavan.

The BJP leadership, particularly Mr Vajpayee, did not like the way Mr Bhan was conducting himself. The BJP did not want that there should be another Dalit face of the party other than Bangaru Laxman himself. The Congress has had many Dalit leaders but the official face of the Dalits was Mr Jagjivan Ram. Similarly, the BJP's only Dalit face is Mr Laxman and nobody else.

For this reason, the BJP chose an all upper caste team in Uttar Pradesh, which is going to the polls next year, in order to win over the high caste people by appointing the governor, the chief minister and the state party chief from the upper castes. Some Dalits leaders of the party, including Mr Sangh Priya Gautam, were supportive of Mr Bhan and wanted him to be retained in the Lucknow Raj Bhavan. Mr Vajpayee, who did not agree to this, probably believes that an assertive governor is against the spirit of democracy.

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