Cowbelt Creatures

With Mayawati cornered on a series of rapes and murders, the Opposition is all pepped up
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

It was quite an impressive show. The Congress ‘Nyay Yatra' in Lucknow on June 27 to protest against growing lawlessness, rapes and atrocities on women, and the murder of Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr YS Sachan, branded by the UP government as the prime accused in the murder of two Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), Dr BP Singh and Dr VK Arya — both holding top jobs in the family welfare department — became a big headache for the Mayawati government. Since the UP government had imposed Section 144, thousands of Congress workers drawn from neighbouring districts courted arrest. Those arrested included former chief minister Ram Naresh Yadav, UPCC President Rita Bahuguna Joshi, CLP leader Pramod Tewari, among others.

Joshi had given a call to protest against the government’s failure to order a CBI probe into the murders. It has been alleged that Sachan was made a scapegoat to save some powerful figures in the BSP government, who have apparently bungled crores of central grant in the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Sachan had been killed a day before he was to be taken into police custody for interrogation on the killing of the two CMOs. His death was initially passed off as suicide. Joshi has alleged that Sachan was killed inside jail. AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh and Joshi also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi on June 28 and apprised him of the deteriorating law and order situation in UP, and the rising crime graph.

Earlier, following the earlier murder of a CMO and public outrage, Mayawati had compelled two of her ‘favourite’ ministers looking after the health department, Anant Mishra and Babu Singh Kushwaha, to resign.

All the opposition parties are gearing up to take on the BSP government in the assembly elections scheduled for 2012. Much significance is being attached to the statements of senior leaders of BJP, Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) that there would no pre- or post-poll alliance with BSP. BJP, which had helped Mayawati become chief minister thrice in the past, has resolved that there would be no alliance with BSP. Much weakened in UP after the abject failure of its Ram campaign, BJP held its national executive in early June in Lucknow to boost the party’s sagging morale. Its clichéd resolution promised to restore “Ramrajya” by ending the “jungle and mafia raj” of the Mayawati government. It declared that UP has become a “synonym for bad governance, mismanagement, corruption, goonda raj, mafia raj and casteism”.

BJP leaders reiterated that there was a time when the party had dominated the state’s politics and formed the government with Kalyan Singh, Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh as chief ministers. They said their party used to be so high on the popularity graph due to its Hindutva card that it had sent 58 MPs to the Lok Sabha in 1998. BJP promised a big temple of Ram at Ayodhya to replay the Hindutva card once again. It categorically announced that there will be no alliance with BSP.

With the induction of Uma Bharti, BJP is playing the backward caste card to consolidate its hold and regain the powerful Lodh Rajput votes to counter the influence of former chief minister Kalyan Singh. Bharti, on her arrival in Lucknow, aggressively played the Hindutva card, while sharply attacking Mayawati. Kalyan Singh, now an arch enemy of the BJP, is considered the undisputed leader of the Lodh Rajputs. He has openly resolved to damage the prospects of BJP candidates. He cryptically said that Bharti will not be able to help a party which is “already on a ventilator”.

The prominent Brahmin face of BJP in UP, Kalraj Mishra, is leading the campaign committee and is hoping to win back the ‘sawarnas’ who went with BSP in 2007. BJP is also mobilising support by using the names of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. Mishra and state president Surya Pratap Shahi took out a ‘Kisan Yatra’ in western UP to win over farmers, especially after Rahul Gandhi visited Bhatta-Parsaul in Greater Noida. The desperate party is trying every trick in its pocket to regain some base in UP, but the signs of revival are distant. SP, which has also been a ruling party, held its national executive at Agra where its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav announced it would fight to dislodge the Mayawati government and also play the role of a ‘kingmaker’ in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Ironically, despite its outside support to UPA II with its 19 MPs, the isolated party has found no takers in the corridors of power in Delhi.

SP took a lead by announcing 300 party candidates, but, simultaneously, it is facing an internal revolt from those who have been denied tickets. Ironically, Yadav appealed to party workers to ensure the victory of “official candidates” only. He also promised job reservations for Muslims; however, he confused Muslim voters with his open support to Baba Ramdev. Muslims are upset with Ramdev, who they perceive to be a “stooge” of the VHP-BJP-RSS.

Significantly, SP lost its traditional support base of Muslims in the last polls, after joining hands with Kalyan Singh, who was the BJP chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. Yadav shared the dais with Singh and campaigned with him. This led to a Muslim backlash. This time, hence, SP is taking no risk.

Rahul Gandhi is pursuing Mission 2012 to capture power in UP. The campaign was formally launched by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul on May 18, 2011 in Varanasi. The occasion was the 83rd convention of the UP Congress Committee (UPCC), where they asked party leaders and workers to prepare for the hard, protracted fight ahead.

Rahul promised to visit every district of UP and take the struggle of the farmers at Bhatta-Parsaul to every village, town and city. He avoided talking of vote bank politics; instead, he chose to speak of the poor as the real vote bank. He said the party does not lack a poll plank as there are numerous people’s issues, as in Bundelkhand, Noida and Shravasti. He asked Congress workers to stop wasting time and energy in blaming their political rivals like SP, BSP, BJP and Peace Party, and focus on what they can actually do for the aam aadmi.

The stark lack of development in the last two decades and large-scale corruption during the Mayawati regime were flagged off as major issues, besides the need to educate people about massive discrepancies in centrally funded schemes like the MGNREGA, education for all midday meal schemes and National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Rahul said that the UP government was insincere in implementing the central government’s special package for Bundelkhand. A pre-poll alliance with any party in 2012 assembly polls has been ruled out.

The reason, perhaps, lies in the past. Despite the unwillingness of SP in the last Lok Sabha polls to give Congress more than 10 seats, and though analysts predicted less than five seats, the party fought on its own strength and won 20 seats. This was a big, surprising gain. Addressing a public meeting at Beniabagh in Varanasi, Sonia Gandhi spoke about atrocities on farmers in Gautam Buddha Nagar district. She reminded the audience of all the “good work” carried out 22 years ago, during the Congress regime, in agriculture, industry, irrigation, power, education and health. Concerns were raised about the abysmal condition of hospitals without proper doctors and medicines, and the sale of sugar mills to the private sector.

To an audience that included many Muslims — mostly, weavers from eastern UP — Sonia held the state government responsible for the tragic condition of weavers, despite the Rs 3,000 crore UPA package. The Centre had also reduced the excise duty to bring down the cost of silk yarn. She asserted that the failure is because of the absence of a Congress government in the state. Infighting at every level is the biggest problem, pointed out Congress workers from all over the state. It was suggested that a few districts could be allotted to Union ministers; they could then undertake extensive tours and initiate projects from their ministries. Such efforts, it was felt, would raise the people’s confidence in the party. There were requests to finalise the list of candidates as early as possible to give a head start to the campaign.

Political analyst Dr Ramesh Dixit feels that the blueprint of Mission 2012, if rigorously pursued, could transform the Congress as the main rival of the BSP, although it is too early to predict who would finally win. People, including upper castes, Muslims and Dalits, observers feel, are looking towards Congress as a possible alternative in 2012. The question is, will the Congress get its act in right earnest?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2011