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Tuesday, Mar 12, 2002

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Warning signals from the UP mandate

Harihar Swarup

With no consensus emerging on government formation, the Uttar Pradesh Governor, Mr Vishnu Kant Shastri, had no choice but to declare President's rule in the State.

AS expected, the elections in Uttar Pradesh resulted in a hung Assembly and the prediction that none of the contending parties would get a majority was proved correct. Whoever forms the government and whatever may be the shape of the coalition, the dispensation may not last more than a year. This means a mid-term poll and this prognosis may be as prophetic as the forecast of a hung Assembly. It also appears that whoever forms the government will, in all probability, be in an disadvantageous position because such a coalition cannot offer stability and improve governance in the most populous State. It may, therefore, be a victim of the anti-incumbency factor of almost the same magnitude as that which dislodged the previous government.

Now that the BJP has decided not to back the BSP leader, Ms Mayawati, there was no other option left to the Governor, Mr Vishnu Kant Shastri, but to recommend a brief spell of President's rule. While exploring the possibility of forming a government, the Governor went on record that his priority would be to see which combination could provide a stable government, instead of routinely applying the principle of inviting the single largest party to form the ministry and ask it to prove its majority within a stipulated timeframe.

The Governor's insistence that Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav furnish the list of MLAs supporting him appears reasonable. Having returned 146 MLAs, the SP leader could not have managed a majority even had he succeeded in enlisting the support of the Congress(I) (25 members) and other non-BJP parties unless he split Ms Mayawati's 98-member strong Legislature Party. The big question doing the rounds in political circles is: "Will Mr Mulayam Singh be able to split the BSP?" This is the biggest worry of Ms Mayawati too and also of the BJP. With the State coming under President's rule, such a possibility appears remote.

While declining to form a coalition with Ms Mayawati or extend support to her, the BJP leadership was guided by the overwhelming opinion of the party's rank and file which had expressed its strong reservation in having any truck with the BSP. The top leadership too has its eyes on the Lok Sabha elections due in two-and-half years, and does not want to join a fragile arrangement that may discredit them further.

Going by experience, if the BJP forms a coalition with Ms Mayawati or even supports a BSP government from outside, its credibility is bound to suffer further and its vote bank may diminish. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, chose to put his party's position in a more forthright manner: "The BJP has lost the mandate of the people and the party should sit in Opposition".

Leaders of the UP unit of the BJP and at the national level have given convincing reasons for keeping away from Ms Mayawati. She had, for the first time, in 1995 formed the government with the outside support of the BJP. Within four months she pressed her "Dalit agenda", creating a wedge in the BJP's vote bank, and the party's central leadership had to withdraw the support.

In 1996, the BJP declined to extend outside support and it was decided that the Chief Minister's post would alternate between Ms Mayawati and the BJP nominee for six months each. She completed the first six months during which she again vigorously pushed a "Dalit" agenda but when the BJP's turn came, she pulled the rug from under the party. Now that Ms Mayawati has resigned her Lok Sabha seat and decided to retain her membership of the UP Assembly, it is believed that during the Centre's rule, the frayed tempers in both the BJP camp and in her party will calm down and they may arrive at a formula to cobble together a coalition. That is possibly the only way out to tide over the situation. Ms Mayawati's condition is that she should be made the Chief Minister but the BJP leadership still has reservations about this, though the party seems to be mellowing.

Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has roped in the CPI-(M) leader, Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet, to broker an understanding with the Congress(I) leader, Ms Sonia Gandhi, to enlist her party's support. UP Congress leaders are, however, strongly opposed to having any truck with the SP leader. Already in shambles with its vote percentage down, they feel that any alliance with Mr Mulayam Singh will destroy the Congress(I)'s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress(I) is now playing a clever game as it remains non-committal on supporting the Samajwadi Party. Senior Congress leaders say their party would decide after the SP leader wrangles the support of other parties and ensures that he can form a government. The final decision, however, rests with Ms Sonia Gandhi but, like the BJP, her aim is also to revamp her party in the State before the general elections.

Another debated subject is if the dislodging of the BJP in the key State of Uttar Pradesh and tiny Uttaranchal, and its ally, Akali Dal, in Punjab is a referendum on the Vajpayee Government. Already half-way though in its five-year Lok Sabha term, the poll outcome may not be considered so through the BJP's authority has, no doubt, been diluted.

One may safely infer that ruling from New Delhi henceforth will be tougher as the Prime Minister will have to take with him the Chief Ministers of 14 Congress-ruled States, the Marxist-ruled West Bengal and the AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee will have to, therefore, evolve a new culture of consensus and work out an effective and meaningful concurrence on national issues. As of now, the BJP rules only one major State, Gujarat, and has governments in two tiny States — Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand. Its Goa Government has collapsed.

(The author, a former Bureau Chief of PTI, is a New Delhi-based columnist).

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