Building a political chemistry

THE APPEARANCE OF the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati, and the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, at a public function to inaugurate a park in memory of B. R. Ambedkar in Lucknow may not have conveyed any political message in the normal course. Apart from the fact that Union Ministers do share the stage with Chief Ministers (even when they belong to rival political platforms) at functions organised by State Governments, in this instance, the BJP is a partner in the coalition headed by Ms. Mayawati. But the Lucknow function assumed political significance given the social fragmentation across Uttar Pradesh and its impact on the political discourse. The BJP appears to have used the September 28 rally to unveil its plans to sail along with the BSP at least until the next general elections. Mr. Advani's statement (at the BJP's Uttar Pradesh unit executive committee meeting that concluded the same day as the BSP rally) that his party's decision to support the Mayawati dispensation was aimed at achieving certain long term ends is a clear indication of this.

Given the complex caste mosaic by which the electoral arithmetic is guided, the Deputy Prime Minister's statement cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. Mr. Advani's observations (and the very fact that he presented himself on the stage along with Ms. Mayawati and the BSP chief, Kanshi Ram) are also a signal to his Uttar Pradesh unit chief, Vinay Katiyar, to desist from doing anything that could convey that the BJP teamed up with the BSP only in order that a Government is put in place (the argument that the alliance was forged out of exigency). After having realised the pitfalls in their earlier strategy — to concentrate only on consolidating the upper caste social base — the BJP's leadership seems to have decided to adopt "social engineering" as the party's political strategy. True, the BJP had attempted this in the past too when it projected Kalyan Singh as its leader in the State. But then, the attempt at that stage was to rally behind the BJP those social groups from among the OBCs that were marginalised in the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party. That was a stage when the Dalit constituency was considered "dispensable" by both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.

The resilience displayed by the BSP in the last Assembly elections, (when Ms. Mayawati managed to rope in sections from among the Most Backward Castes and also the upper castes) leading to its emergence as the second largest party in the House, could not have been glossed over by the BJP's political leadership. Mr. Advani's observations in Lucknow and his participation in the BSP's rally are evidence of this realisation and the consequent change in strategy insofar as the BJP is concerned. While it remains to be seen how far such a social chemistry could be worked out, the development as such is full of potential to turn the political discourse in Uttar Pradesh on its head. Unity between the upper castes and the Dalits (as long as it is restricted to the electoral arena and the protagonists refrain from lending any social objectives to the project) is indeed not too difficult to achieve given the animosity these two social groups share towards the OBCs. This, in political terms, could mean the complete marginalisation, once again, of the Congress and render the political discourse in Uttar Pradesh what it was during the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.

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