A blue garland for the elephant
Anticipating Dalit support for Rahul Gandhi and Congress in the next assembly polls, Mayawati is returning to her pro-Dalit agenda with a vengeance
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow
Reeling under constant fear of the Congress weaning away Dalit voters from the party, UP Chief Minister Mayawati organised a 'maharally' in commemoration of 25 years of the party and birth anniversary of its founding-member, Kanshi Ram, in Lucknow on March 15. She addressed her core voters for about two hours.
Opposition leaders have bitterly criticised her for pumping in huge amounts of money, the entire UP power apparatus and official machinery for organising the show though ordinary people continued to suffer due to the recent communal riots and subsequent curfew in Bareilly, and relentless inflation.
The situation got aggravated with reports of fresh rounds of violence after Taukir Raza Khan, who belongs to the influential family of the founder of Bareilvi Muslims, was arrested by the UP regime. He was released later, but the tension due to his arrest remained simmering. Communal violence in Bareilly was sparked earlier on March 2.
Local Congress MP, Praveen Singh Aron, said the arrest and subsequent release of Khan was part of a wider BSP conspiracy. When released, Khan claimed that he was arrested because he had backed Congress in the last Lok Sabha polls.
Political commentators see the Bareilly riots as an attempt to polarise the politics of the city where the sitting MP is from Congress, after BJP had called the shots for 22 long years. While the upper castes have voted for BJP in the past, there has been tough competition between BSP, Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) to win over Muslims voters.
Muslims are upset with the BSP government for handling the riots with characteristic non-seriousness, and for prolonging the curfew, derailing lives of ordinary people including of students appearing for their board examinations. Others sense a conspiracy behind the violence in what is basically a deeply secular social fabric. Observers say that these riots would be a major setback for Mayawati who is trying to gain Muslim support to retain power in the next assembly polls.
She is aware that Muslims have deserted SP after Mulayam Singh joined hands with Kalyan Singh, as is evident from SP's loss of seats in the last Lok Sabha elections with not one winning Muslim candidate. She knows that a large chunk of Muslim votes went to Congress that won 22 out of 80 seats in UP. The party seems to have gained sympathy from alienated Muslims after AICC general secretary and in-charge of UP affairs, Digvijay Singh, visited Azamgarh and took an 'open stand' on the Batla house encounter, widely perceived to be fake. He clearly said, "I have seen the photographs of the youth killed in the encounter. I think there should be a probe."
Obviously, he was referring to the killing of young Sajid, 18, with five bullet wounds on the upper side of his head. Indeed, the latest post mortem reports refute the police version, including the reference of Sajid being hit by a "blunt force". Rahul Gandhi is also expected to do his bit in his scheduled visit to Azamgarh. In that sense, Azamgarh, branded as a 'terrorist haven' by an irresponsible media, represents the collective angst and anger of the Muslim community in UP.
In these circumstances, Mayawati has given more importance to her trusted lieutenant, Nasimuddin Siddiqui, who holds important ministries and is virtually the number two cabinet minister. Siddiqui is the Muslim face responsible for winning over minority votes. After the Lucknow rally, Mayawati gave additional charge of the agriculture ministry to Siddiqui to emphasise his growing importance. Siddiqui was seen handling the dais and raising slogans for 'behenji'.
There has been a raging controversy over the huge cash garlands used to decorate Mayawati. Mulayam Singh and Digvijay Singh claimed the notes to be in the denomination of Rs 1,000 each, between Rs 2 to 6 crore, with the latter calling her daulat ke beti instead of Dalit ki beti (wealth's daughter, instead of Dalit's daughter). UPCC president Rita Bahuguna called the BSP rally "a circus, with Mayawati as the ring master."
Despite adverse reactions from multiple quarters, BSP workers yet again presented Mayawati with another currency-note garland on March 16. They maintain that the two garlands cost them 'only' Rs 22 lakh and 18 lakh, and were brought with money collected by party workers. Siddiqui has announced that if allowed, the party will keep garlanding her with money garlands in the future. The income tax department has started investigating the case, but, surely, nothing is going to come out of it.
Analysts argue that BSP has tried to send a message across to party workers that they are loaded with funds. Dalit experts feel that though the city's elite may feel bad about the wastage of money on garlands, her workers are happy that their party is rich and flourishing.
Lucknow was turned blue with the BSP colour and its symbol - the blue elephant. A film showcasing how Kanshi Ram and Mayawati are harbingers of change was screened. Painted blue, the city's crossings shone with blue lighting for days together, with giant hoardings of Dalit icons, and decorated memorials and statues at every corner. The opposition alleged that the entire government machinery was sucked into this show. There is perceptible anxiety about the total budget of the rally which could range between Rs 200-500 crore!
Mayawati's rhetoric confirmed that her priority was consolidation of Dalit voters for the next assembly polls. She asked her supporters to prepare to capture power at the Centre as well. Brazenly justifying the money spent on her statues and memorials, she said it was only one per cent of the budget while targeting Congress for over-spending on building memorials for Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. She branded the 'Dalit-love' of Rahul Gandhi as a 'tamasha' (spectacle), blaming Congress for conspiring to ruin her by filing the Taj heritage corridor and disproportionate assets cases against her.
To appease those voters who fear a Brahmin takeover of the BSP, she has apparently 'demoted' her lieutenant Satish Mishra from the number two slot to the legal cell to fight multiple cases filed against her. A tedious and difficult job, indeed. Not just Mishra, officers close to him have been sidelined. Mayawati has been avoiding public appearances with him while giving important positions to Dalits in the state's bureaucratic set-up.
With her gaze fixed on the 2012 assembly polls, behenji is building on the fact that both SP and BJP are weak political contenders. That explains her tirade against the Congress all through the rally.