Monday 20 December 1999

With UF as the Enemy, the BJP Does Not Need Friends

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Whether in 1979 or in 1990, an agglomeration of groups like
today's United Front (UF) has always got defeated by self goals.
The Congress party had no need to make any move other than
watch as the Morarji Desai and then the V. P. Singh govemments
destroyed themselves. While in 1977-79 the Congress was the
only opposition to the government, by 1990 the B]P began to
share that space with it. Today, the BJP is in the same position
as the Congress was during 1977-79: all it needs to do is to wait
patiently while its opponents in government destroy themselves.

While the All India Congress Committee (AICC), under P. V.
Narasimha Rao was in a clearly subordinate position to the UF,
obsessed as it was with saving Rao and his son from jail, it was
expected that the Sitaram Kesri AICC would reclaim lost
opposition space for the Congress by differentiating it from the
UF. The appointment of two "UF lobby" members - Ahmed
Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad—as office—bearers and the latter's
frank confession of helplessness vis-a-vis the Gowda government
has once again helped give the BJP a monopoly over the
opposition space. The contempt shown by the UF to the cries to
support a Congress—BSP government in Uttar Pradesh shows
that the calculation on Raisina Hill is that the Congress may be
able to give a few feeble barks, but it is toothless.

While moralists will applaud Azad’s confession of his party’s
weakness, others within the CWC are dismayed. "Even if we
cannot face another poll now, it is not wise to advertise this fact
and thus reveal our weakness. This will only result in our getting
ignored and thereby becoming even weaker", a Congress Working
Committee (CWC) member said. However, the Kashmir politician
appears to be going by the gameplan of his group, which is to 
prepare for a formal alliance with the UF, first by joining the
Deve Gowda government and thereafter fighting the polls
together. The calculation is that such a front can trounce the BJP.

However, both by conceding the opposition space entirely to
it and by the overkill witnessed in Gujarat and UP, the UF-
Congress alliance may be building up a popular backlash of
support for the saffron party. UF policies are clearly being driven
by the ideologies of the Left—the same individuals who attacked
the President of India for first calling upon A. B. Vajpayee to
form the government. According to the Left, the BJP is today an
untouchable that has to be driven away from power by any
means, even of the kind employed by governor Romesh Bhandari.
If the BJP is prevented from coming to office—or is sought to
be toppled by undemocratic means—the influence of the fanatics
within that party will grow. As a result, the party may focus not
on the legislatures but on the streets, whipping up agitations and
provoking confrontations. With the BJP on the streets and the
Left parties calling for fiscal anarchy, the Deve Gowda government
is likely to lose public support. Given the Congress policy of
tailing the UF, most of the benefit from loss of public support to
the Gowda government is likely to go to the BJP and putative
allies such as Lakshmi Parvathy in Andhra Pradesh and R. K.
Hegde in Karnataka.

While the conventional wisdom is that a BSP-BJP alliance in
UP will suit the UF in that it will prise the Congress loose from
the Dalits party, the fact is that a BSP-BJP govemment may open
up enquiries into the Mulayam Singh regime’s decisions and
provide sufficient dirt for prosecution. This may result in a
shrinkage of the Samajwadi Party base, in the same way as Rao’s
travails have hit the Congress or Laloo Prasad Yadav’s links to
the fodder mafia have hit the Janata Dal.

Of course, a BSP-BJP govemment in UP can follow the policy
of the Manohar Joshi govemment in Maharashtra and let sleeping
scandals lie. While Gopinath Munde used to emote about the
links of the Congress with gangsters while in opposition as home A
minister, he has shown little inclination to follow up. However,
Kanshi Ram may not be as accommodating as Joshi and Munde.

Thus far Kalyan Singh has succeeded in preventing a BSP-
BJP alliance. However, the knowledge that the MLAs of the two 
parties are vulnerable to the siren call of Yadav and the desire 
to pay back the UF-Congress for Gujarat, may in the coming
weeks result in BJP backing the BSP in UP. Governor Bhandari
has shown that the confidence reposed in him by Amar Singh-
who got him his transfer, has been well merited. However, even
he may hesitate before agreeing to reject the bid of a group that
will have a comfortable majority in the UF assembly.

Time is running out for all the principals. Kanshi Ram's
support base is vulnerable to intimidation and Yadav may be
calculating that in a fresh poll, governor Bhandari, Tikait and
assorted musclemen will be able to prevent enough Dalits voting
to give SP the upper hand. Thus, the BSP supremo may have to
either agree to a coalition government (instead of one with
outside support) or be ready to face a fresh poll under adverse
conditions. The B]P needs Kanshi Ram's support base in order
to edge past the 220-mark in Parliament; so it may have to decide
on holding on to the Kalyan Singh thesis or coming to terms with
the BSP.

As predicted, UP is emerging as a decisive factor in national
politics. In the next few weeks, two questions may come up for
an answer: will the Congress swallow its hurt and support the
proclamation of Central government rule in UP? If so, a formal
alliance with the UF appears near. Second, will the BSP and the
BJP stake a claim in UP, and if so, will the governor dissolve the
assembly rather than allow the majority group to come to
power? If the answer to the first question is "no" and that to the
second "yes", the country appears headed for a return to 1990.
The constitutional contortions designed to keep away the BJP
may then build up enough popular support for that party to
have a fair chance at power.

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