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Caste is the key in Hindi heartland

Coalitions are unavoidable in UP as polling for the first phase begins today, reports Chandrakant Naidu.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2007 01:59 IST

"Yeh apna samajwad hai (this is our socialism)," says Kashi Prasad, quickly quelling this journalist's curiosity over the photographs mounted on the walls of his posh restaurant in the upmarket Gomtinagar area. Different photos show him with Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Kalyan Singh — all contenders of power in Uttar Pradesh, the fulcrum of Indian politics.

“They are all strong leaders. Mayawati is an organised politician who has been gaining consistently in the Assembly for the past 18 years. Kalyan Singh has left his mark as an administrator while Mulayam Singh's political acumen is unmatched.” Kashi Prasad sums it up more succinctly than any seasoned political observer would. But he refuses to hazard a guess on the outcome of this year's crucial elections. Not many others would like to do that either.

The decibel level has remained relatively low this time around. Polling for the first phase begins on Saturday. “When the BJP came to power on its own in 1991, Kalyan Singh fared well. But when his party formed a coalition government with Mayawati, both failed to live up to people’s expectation. This time around, the Mulayam Singh Yadav government released large amount of funds for development but had no control over the mafiosi and criminals. Mayawati's regime had law and order under control but lacked focus on development. The Congress has come to such a pass that it has no one to be projected as the chief ministerial candidate," says Prof JV Vaishampayan, of Lucknow University, summing up the absence of choice for the average voter.

Coalitions unavoidable

Surveys suggest that the coalitions are unavoidable and that forces all parties to push vital issues like development, power production and healthcare into the background and work out winning formulae on caste equations.

Mulayam Singh had led the last majority government in 1989-91 when the Congress crashed out of power after almost 50 years. Hung Houses have been a regular feature ever since the BJP countered V.P. Singh's post-Mandal polarisation mantra with Advani's rath yatra, and Kalyan Singh ascended to power in 1991.

Uttar Pradesh hereabout became the nation's laboratory for formulating politics of caste, crime and communalism. Criminal elements influenced the electoral fortunes of various parties from without and were subsequently absorbed into the parties and began contesting the elections. Crime acquired respectability since the early nineties. Now charge sheets over corruption do not deter both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh from facing the electorate without hesitation. “Fractured verdicts made the parties insecure and they began leaning on the bureaucrats and police officials to expand their base by overlooking crime and corruption,” says Dr Satya Prakash, a physician and a keen student of political trends.

Decline of bigwigs

The communal compartmentalisation and caste fragmentation led to a steady decline of the Congress and the BJP. The Congress, which was an umbrella organisation, built on the support from Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins withered away with the emergence of Bahujan Samaj Party. The scores logged by Congress since its fall in 1989 read as follows: 1991 (46), 1993 (28) 1996 (33) and 2002 (25). The BJP has done only slightly better in that its fall has been gradual. It won 177 in 1993, 174 in 1996 and just 88 in 2002.