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Politics of opportunism in UP

Both the BJP and the SP are looking at quick-fixes in India?s largest state ? and this is bound to catch up with them.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2006 04:21 IST
Guest column | Salman Khurshid
Guest column | Salman Khurshid

Politics in Uttar Pradesh has been held hostage to what should normally appear to be absurd ideas to normal people. However normalcy and normal behaviour, in terms of civilisational attitudes, is the last thing to expect in the largest state of our country. While everyone takes the simplistic view that UP politics is dominated by caste, and will remain so for many years to come, this picture ignores one crucial factor. The demolition of Babri Masjid and the polarisation that shook UP to its foundations seems to have been forgotten. While it is true that the VHP/RSS/BJP combine is unable to get any response out of their Mandir movement any longer and the Babri Masjid Action Committee seems to have all but folded up, the impact of the demolition continues to dominate political attitudes, particularly amongst Muslims.

Muslims never did, nor will, vote for the BSP or the SP for what they offer as political parties. They voted for them on the assumption and in the belief that the Congress Party had failed them.

That the Congress Party failed the Muslims of UP, or indeed of the country, is something that people like myself cannot countenance or accept, for if it did what would we still be doing in the Congress Party?

Of course, we can hardly claim to have covered ourselves with laurels. Something did go wrong and there may have been people on all sides who wanted something to go wrong. But it did go wrong not because of the Congress Party but despite the Congress Party. A terrible thing happened and yet, strangely enough, the price that we paid through that awful tragedy somehow reinforced the commitment of an average Indian — Hindus and Muslims alike — to keep our country together and not to allow our private pain or public postures to disunite our country.

The Congress paid a heavy price, and perhaps continues to do so, and the worst hit were Muslims in the Congress, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. The gainers were BJP, BSP and SP and, I dare say that all three conveniently collaborated in that gain, sometimes in apparent hostility on the surface but with a meeting of minds underneath. So long as Congress remains weak BSP and SP will remain strong and BJP will retain a chance. So long as BJP remains relevant SP and BSP will continue to provide an alternative for unsettled Muslims. Pure caste politics by SP and BSP will not get the former beyond 15 per cent vote (with 8 per cent Yadavs) and BSP beyond 18 per cent (with 12 per cent Jatavs). The additional muscle and its consequential gravitational pull for smaller groups come with the bulk Muslim vote. The total Muslim votes in U.P., being 18 per cent, can cause a dramatic shift in fortunes, depending on which way they vote. Their return to the Congress will be the death knell of the two regional parties and would not necessarily give a confused BJP any comfort.

In all these years that the SP and BSP have dominated the field for, amongst others, the Muslims of UP, there is precious little that they have done for the Muslims, whilst their core communities have prospered dramatically. No important Muslim leader has emerged in these years from these two parties and such leaders as have become conspicuous have yet to acquire more than the status of cheerleaders. Interestingly, the constant swap of Muslims between the BSP and SP (the most obvious being the case of Yaqoob Qureshi, formally a BSP minister now vying for honours against Azam Khan in the SP) is indicative of competitive populism that the two offer and the vacillating comfort their ranks make available to the new breed of Muslim leaders on the make.

It would not be unfair to say that both the parties, as indeed the Muslim leaders who travel between them, are looking for quick fixes and are happy to shake off relationships at the drop of their respective red and blue topis. In this constant battle to wean away each other’s Muslim magnets, the periodic fortunes of the two parties have become a subject of constant speculation, making politics move further and further away from substance.

In a smaller measure, both parties reach out to malcontents of their respective core communities — for example the several high profile Yadav leaders, particularly in Eastern UP, having hitched their careers to the BSP and, similarly, some other Backward leaders having turned to the Samajwadi Party on their being spurned by their mother party, the BSP. Their appetites, of course, cannot be satiated by feeding on each other’s stock, so both have tried to infiltrate into areas that their aggressive politics had consciously excluded in the past. Mulayam Singh Yadav is looking for the very OBCs and MBCs who his band of Yadav followers had happily deprived of all opportunities and Mayawati is making desperate effort to gain the confidence of Brahmins who she hopes may have forgotten “Tilak tarazu aur talwar...”

All this makes a sad picture, for no longer does public debate address the issue of who should win and who should rule but remains stuck in the never ending exercise of calculating who can win and who will win. Morality, development and enlightenment have taken the back seat, or perhaps even beyond, whilst cynical arithmetic rules the roost. Elections will come again and the two great mathematicians of UP will get back to doing their sums while the State itself becomes, once again, a victim of the zero sum game. The Congress has a view and the Congress is offering something substantial, i.e. Rozgar Guarantee, Urban Development, Rural Infrastructure, and Right to Information.

Time will tell if we can overcome.

(The writer is president, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee)

First Published: Mar 12, 2006 04:21 IST