March 03, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART V


 BATTLEGROUND UP - Part B

With a population of over 20 crore people and encompassing an area of over 2.43 lakh sq km, Uttar Pradesh is the big daddy amongst all states of the Indian Union. Though blessed with fertile land and vast bounty of natural and human resource, the state has lagged behind others in terms of infrastructure development and social progress. While UP has given the country eight Prime Ministers since independence, ironically, the state which has been the melting pot of various cultures in ancient and medieval times, and its people have remained largely backward in many aspects. A crucial reason for this has been the fact that the politics of UP has been dominated by insignificant factors like caste and religion. 

In the last assembly elections conducted in the state in 2007, an important factor, apart from the ‘Social Engineering’ strategy that led to the BSP’s excellent showing was a strong wave of anti-incumbency against the Mulayam Singh regime. With the BJP jostling with infighting amongst its top leaders and the state unit of the Congress in complete disarray, the anti-SP votes went into Maya’s kitty leading her to a simple majority in the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Soudha. However, this time around the tables have turned on the BSP. With the few development schemes of the Mayawati government being overshadowed by the numerous corruption scandals, poll pundits have predicted that the party may find it extremely tough to cross the 150 mark, let alone coming into power on its own.
UP CM  Mayawati
The Samajwadis have undergone significant changes in their ranks in the last five years that they were in the opposition. After the Left parties pulled out their support to the UPA - I government on the issue of the Nuclear bill, it was the SP that bailed the Central government out with the help of its 39 MPs. However, with differences over the Congress on seat sharing in the state, the SP joined the ‘Fourth Front’, comprising of the RJD, LJP and SP. Although the party was reduced to 23 seats in the Lok Sabha, it salvaged some pride by finishing at the top in the four way contest in Uttar Pradesh. In January 2011, industrialist cum politician Amar Singh was expelled from the SP. Known for his affluent lifestyle, links with Bollywood personalities and accused in several cases of corruption, Singh’s exit has added more credibility to the outfit.


The Samajwadi Party has launched a massive campaign, titled ‘Ummed ki Cycle’ to wrest back power from the BSP. Leading the poll bandwagon is Kannauj MP and the party’s Yuvraj Akhilesh Yadav. The young leader’s cycle rallies across different corners of the state have been a huge hit and have witnessed sizable crowds. The state polls will be a crucial phase in the young scion’s political career and a good showing by the SP will firmly establish him as a prominent player in North Indian politics. The foreign educated Akhilesh has also made it clear that his party is not against computers or English, a paradigm shift from its earlier stand and an attempt to reach out to the urban youth. However, he has maintained that emphasis will be on Hindi and Urdu in case his father gets a fourth term as the state’s Chief Minister.

However, the greatest worry for the SP is losing the anti-BSP votes to a resurgent Congress. After being out of power for the last 22 years and reduced to a mere 21 seats in the last elections, the UP unit of the party has been rejuvenated by the entry of Rahul Gandhi into the election campaign. Though his charisma failed to impress the electorate in Bihar, Rahul seems to have touched a chord with the people of UP. This was evident in the superb performance of the Congress in the General elections where it bagged as many as 21 seats surpassing all expectations.

Realizing that a strong presence in the state will hold the key to his party’s future, the young leader has never missed any opportunity to hit at the Mayawati government, be it the Bhatta-Parsaul agitation against forcible land grabbing, lack of development or the allegations of corruption against Behenji and her colleagues. In his speeches, Rahul has blamed the successive SP, BSP and BJP governments in Lucknow for the lack of infrastructure development in the state, ignoring the fact that no worthwhile development was done during the 40 year long period when the Congress was in power in the state. An alliance with Ajit Singh’s RLD has also enhanced the Congress’s poll prospects. While her older brother is campaigning across the nook and corner of the state, Priyanka Gandhi, the other half of the famous Gandhi siblings is canvassing for the party’s candidates in the family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

With so much media hype revolving around Rahul, many are claiming that this could be the make-or-break elections for him A good showing by the Congress will be regarded as a vote for Rahul rather than for the Congress’s ideology by the loyal party workers and will be heralded as his coming of age in the arena of Indian politics, thereby accelerating his ascent towards the PM’s post. However, an average performance could end up giving more ammunition to the BJP and other parties to ridicule the Congress’s poster boy. Though there is little doubt that senior party leaders will defend Rahul baba at all costs in case of an electoral drubbing, like they did after the Bihar polls in 2010, the whole situation will surely be embarrassing for the Congress, to say the least.

Even the BJP is trying hard to retain lost ground in the state. The saffron outfit which ruled the state under Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh has been consistently losing ground in the state over the last few years. For a party that began its journey to the top of Indian politics from UP, it is ironically that today, the BJP finds itself in such a hopeless position in the state. Strengthening the party in Uttar Pradesh is one of the topmost priorities of the chief Nitin Gadkari. With this objective in mind the party has made Hindutva firebrand and its OBC face, Uma Bharathi as the spearhead of its election campaign. Also the party is trying hard to woo back the upper caste votes that had gone to the BSP in the last election.
Babu Singh Kushwaha
Ever since the whole nation stood behind Anna Hazare in the fight for a strong and effective Lokpal, corruption has become a major political issue in every state that goes to polls this year and Uttar Pradesh is no exception. With fresh allegations of corruption cropping up at regular intervals against Behenji and her ministers, the Opposition has upped its ante against the state government. Many will remember that during her previous tenure, the UP CM was accused of accepting graft to give clearance to the multi-crore Taj Corridor project, ignoring all environmental concerns and the damaging effects it would have on the World Heritage Monument. Though no significant progress has been made in the CBI investigation looking into the scam, a slew of corruption charges against the Dalit icon’s cabinet ministers and close aides might cut short her dream of retaining the mega state.

Probably, the most well-known of all the scams that have tarnished the BSP government is the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam in which top ministers, bureaucrats and their aides have been accused of siphoning off an estimated Rs 10,000 crore released by the Central government for improving health care in remote areas of the state. Moreover, the death of several heath department officials under mysterious circumstances is been widely viewed as an attempt to cover up the scam by eliminating key links that lead to the actual perpetrators of the crime. Meanwhile, Union Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh has asked Mayawati to order a CBI investigation into the embezzlement of funds meant for the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in several districts of the state. The myriad cases of land grabbing, amassing of disproportionate assets, misuse of power and public wealth have clearly put the elephant on the back foot.

Rahul Gandhi is raking up the issue of widespread corruption in the Maya government to get the Congress into power in Lucknow. In every rally that the PM-in-waiting has addressed so far in the state, he has accused the BSP’s Hatthi of eating all money released by the UPA government for the welfare of the state. On similar lines, the father-son duo of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav has also focused on the issue of corruption to catapult the SP back to power. The BJP, which had earlier accused the Maya government of indulging in widespread corruption, scored a self-goal by welcoming the former state minister Babu Singh Kushwaha into the party after he was shown the door by Behenji following investigations into the NRHM scam. Besides, hitting the credibility of the saffron outfit, it has also damaged the morale of the cadre, who reports suggest, were against the move taken unilaterally by the high command.

As always, instead of taking all the criticism lying down, the ‘Iron Lady’ of Uttar Pradesh has launched a major campaign to get an image makeover ahead of the polls. After a report by the CAG indicted the state health and family welfare ministries in the NHRM scam, Mayawati dropped two of her closest ministers, Babu Singh Kushwaha (Family Welfare) and Anant Kumar Mishra (Health) from her cabinet and her party. Several tainted babus including Awadhesh Verma (Backward Class Development), Fateh Bahadur Singh (Forest), Anis Ahmed (Minorities Welfare & Haj), Awadhpal Singh Yadav (Animal Husbandry & Diary Development), etc were sacked after the state Lokayukta started probing allegations against them. Others like Shrinath (Chairman of UP SC/ST Commission), Disha Chamber (Chairman of UP Scheduled Caste Finance Commission) and Ashok Kumar Dhore (Water Resource) were dismissed for reasons like extra-marital affair, indiscipline and misconduct respectively. Like the BJP in Uttarakhand, the BSP has dropped nearly a third of all its sitting MLAs, including nearly 20 ministers in the incumbent government.

While it is true that Maya’s record in the last five years in tackling corruption in UP has been dismal, to say the least, no political party can claim moral high ground on this issue. To counter Rahul tirade against the BSP government for being inefficient to tackle this menace, Mayawati has hit back by highlighting the several scandals that have plagued the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. The entry of Kushwaha into the BJP has dealt a severe blow to the party’s campaign in the state and it has failed to derive any political mileage out of the catch 22 situation that the Congress and the BSP find themselves in. The Samajwadis have decided to play it safe and have slammed its doors on all cabinet ministers and MLAs who wanted to join its rank after being dumped by the BSP. Meanwhile, investigations into allegations of corruption against Mulayam and his close relatives, including Akhilesh are still in progress. 
Dalit women
Probably, the biggest issue in all elections in UP so far, from the Lok Sabha elections to the Panchayat elections has been the caste factor. Whether one accepts or not, it is rather sad that the caste of the candidate decides whom the voter votes for in. Over the years, regional satraps like Maya and Mulayam have become masters of this trade.

Behenjihas emerged to be the most popular Dalitleader in India and her party's vote bank is primarily the Harijan votes. In 2007, she reached out to other communities, most notably the upper castes with her unique experiment of 'Social Engineering' - a brainchild of leader, Subhash Mishra, and came to power with an absolute majority. The Brahmin leader was sidelined in the BSP after he was accused of appointing his family members to party posts, leading to protests from the Dalit leaders who felt that this would cause the party's core vote bank to drift away. Soon their fears turned into reality when a significant chunk of Dalit votes went to the Congress and the BSP managed to get only 20 seats in the last general elections. Hoping to retain her post and the to woo the Brahmin community, Mayawati has brought back Mishra into the forefront ahead of the polls. 

Like Mayawati, the SP's primary vote bank is the Yadav and OBC community to which its leader Mulayam belongs to. The Congress is also hoping to win the Dalit and OBC communities to its side, with Rahul Gandhi making every effort possible to reach out to them. The BJP on its part is going all out to bring back the Brahmin votes, which it had lost to the BSP in 2007, to its kiity. Also, by making OBC leader Uma Bharati the face of its state campaign, the saffron outfit is hoping to increase its chances of winning as many seats as possible. Besides, it has also risked roping in Babu Kushwaha to win over the Kushwaha community that accounts for 3% of the state's population.

More on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2012

(1) Zee News –Multi-crore MNREGA scam in UP, alleges Ramesh (Link)

(2) Wikipedia – Taj Corridor Scam, UP NHRM scam, Akhilesh Yadav (Link) 

(3) BSP claims Mayawati sacked ministers after survey – India Today (Link)

(4) With eye on UP polls, Mayawati intensifes clean-up – India Today (Link)

(5) Mayawati woos Brahmins in run up to elections, projects SC Mishra as leader (Link)

IMAGES

(1) UP CM Mayawati (Link)
Source: Zee News

(2) Babu Singh Kushwaha (Link)
Source : India Today

(3) Dalit women (Link)
Source : Jagran Post