POLL VAULT 2012. Uttar Pradesh

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‘The Ram temple issue is still on agenda, but not part of
vote politics’

WHEN UMA BHARTI was re-inducted into the BJP on 7 June 2011, it was seen as a masterstroke to revitalise a faction-ridden party in Uttar Pradesh. Bharti was back in the fold after a five-year hiatus, and inducted just days after the National Executive meet in Lucknow. Her importance in the new scheme of things can be gauged from the fact that not only is she the face of the BJP in UP, the party is banking on her mass appeal by giving close to 150 tickets to OBCs. The Babu Ram Kushwaha fiasco notwithstanding, she is trying her best to ensure that the tally of the BJP in this crucial Assembly election is a respectable one. Bharti knows that it is not only the image of the party that is on the line but her own political future in the party too. Will she make a difference? As a BJP insider puts it, “The very fact that she has been able to arrest the decline of the party is a big plus. The rest is bonus.” Bharti spoke to Brijesh Pandey in Lucknow.

Uma Bharti
Second innings Uma Bharti thinks she’s nailed the UP vote-bank, Photo: Vijay Pandey

EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Do you see the BJP’s prospects soaring in the Assembly poll after your entry?
There is a surge but I don’t know to what extent I can take credit for it. When I rejoined BJP, there already was a wave in its favour as the people of UP were upset with both SP and the BSP. I sincerely believe that if we are not able to form the government in UP this time, it will be our own fault and not of the people of UP.

What are the issues in this Assembly election? Is Ram still relevant for BJP?
Corruption has emerged as the single biggest issue in this election. Of course, Ram does feature on our agenda but now is no longer a part of vote politics. Ram’s relevance became an issue because of the opposition by the Babri Masjid Action Committee and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Ram wave was not created so much by Ram supporters as it was by people who were against this movement. They inflamed Hindu passions by opposing Ram. Since there has been no reaction from them for a while, we are silent.

You were upset about the induction of Babu Ram Kushwaha. Do you still think it was a big mistake on the part of the BJP?
A lot of facts are yet to come out in the Kushwaha episode. Kushwaha says he was a pawn in a larger game: If money was being extorted, it was for somebody else. He himself asked us to suspend his membership. After that it would be improper on my part to comment on the Kushwaha episode. There should be a probe into whose pawn he was.

Kalyan Singh and his son Rajveer are tough competition
Duopoly Kalyan Singh and his son Rajveer are tough competition, Photos: Pramod Adhikari

This means your party, which was supporting Anna on his anti-corruption campaign…
(Interrupting) I don’t want to comment. If I have to say something, I’ll say it on the party platform.

What about the 4.5 per cent reservation offered to Muslims by the Congress party? Do you view it as appeasement?
It’s a clear-cut policy of Muslim appeasement. If they actually cared about Muslims, why announce it just before elections? Rahul Gandhi has been going to the houses of Dalits and eating there for the last three years, touring Bundelkhand. In spite of that, he felt he couldn’t do enough, and the party immediately came up with the Muslim quota. I think this (quota announcement) proves that Rahul Gandhi does not believe in himself. Despite all that travelling, he couldn’t win the trust of the electorate and therefore had to resort to quotas. What he is not actually saying is that this quota is impractical, a fabrication intended to fool Muslims. Quota can never be more than 50 percent and we won’t allow any reduction in the OBC quota. Then how will he do it? They’d have to amend the Constitution and they don’t even have majority there. This is essentially a betrayal of the Muslim community.

There is talk of internal rifts within the BJP. Do you think this will affect the tally?
I won’t answer till you take the name of the person. Please tell me who has spoken against my appointment.

Kalraj Mishra had allegedly called you an outsider and then backtracked.
Kalraj Mishra has denied the comment and I don’t think it’s worth talking about now. There is no rift within the party. We are all united to win this election.

‘The Muslim quota reflects Congress’ lack of conviction in spite of Rahul’s numerous campaigns in UP’

The BJP has given a big chunk of tickets to the OBCS. Do you think the BJP is getting its OBC arithmetic right?
See, the MBC and OBC have come to the forefront of politics and you can’t ignore them. They have come on their own. They don’t have reservation by law but a lot has changed in the last 20 years. They have come forward, are now a majority in most of the political organisations. I think the social engineering that has taken place in the BJP is quite natural.

Rahul called you an outsider. How do you react to that?
Motilal Nehru came to Allahabad from Kashmir. Several other political stalwarts migrated to other places and achieved success. Only a lightweight and a person with scarce knowledge would talk like this. It shows his ignorance.

People are saying that this battle is being fought by persons from MP. You, as potential CM candidate of the BJP and Digvijay Singh, political mentor of Rahul Gandhi.
It’s destiny. I defeated him in Madhya Pradesh. Then again, he lost to me in Bihar. Ideologically, we are completely different. Just for Muslim appeasement, he goes to Batla House and Azamgarh: The kind of remarks he makes only ends up ripping the fabric of this country. Like he made his personal conversations with Hemant Karkare public. Karkare was a top officer of the ATS and a martyr. Digvijay Singh even put a question mark over his martyrdom by saying Karkare had called him and said that he fears for his life from Hindu extremists. This means that Digvijay Singh wanted to prove that ATS officers share secrets with him. It’s the same with the CBI. If you remember what he said about Mayawati: ‘We have the CBI’. This means he believes the CBI is not a government agency but a Congress puppet. These things have hurt the sentiments of this country.

Do you think the Kalyan Singh factor will hurt you? In Charkhari in particular and Lodh-dominated areas in general?
We have to wait and see. See, I joined the BJP after a lot of deliberation. I asked myself: Were we of any use to this country away from the BJP? We gnawed at the base of the BJP only. I didn’t feel good. If I had been able to create a personal space for myself, then it would have been a different thing but we were not able to do that. I thought since the ideology is the same, why not work on a bigger canvas? A lot of swayam sewaks (RSS members) who are also members of the BJP, told me you did not change your ideology; your ideology is the same. Because of that, other parties are not able to support you. Besides, there’s also the issue of raising a cadre and generating funds. From the Jan Sangh to the BJP, the journey took about 50 years — I couldn’t possibly have done it in five. I realised that if I stand on prestige, I’ll be doing a disservice to the nation. If I kill my ego, I will get a bigger canvas. So I sacrificed my ego. I have not changed at all. I will still talk about Wal-Mart: I still talk about Ayodhya; my party gives me the space to talk freely. I have the freedom. Nitin Gadkari respects me a lot. Given the way the BJP cadre has shown its love and affection, I think that it was an error on my part to move away. I paid a price.

You didn’t answer my question about Kalyan Singh.
I think about Kalyan Singh the way I think about myself. I wouldn’t say he should join the party. But I will say to him: You changed your ideology but it did not benefit you. He apologised for 6 December, joined Mulayam Singh, but that further eroded his credibility. He could have carved out an independent identity for himself. Therefore, Kalyan Singh couldn’t rise to his true potential.

Once elections are over, will you return to the politics of MP or remain in UP and prepare for 2014?
My future role in the party will be decided by Nitin Gadkari. You will have to trust me on this: that my placement will be completely decided by the party high command. But I will keep on working on issues like Ayodhya, economic crisis, etc.

What do you think of Rahul Gandhi and his politics?
‘Sam Pitroda is a carpenter’: Why did he say it now? This means he wants to exploit him just the way he wants to exploit Muslims by promising them 4.5 percent reservation on the eve of elections. Since Uma Bharti has come to UP, now Sam Pitroda is a badhai. Rahul Gandhi needs to realise that people laugh at this kind of talk. I take a dim view of his politics. He is a star campaigner but he is yet to be taken seriously. But Mayawati must be taken seriously. Mulayam, Mayawati and Lalu Yadav are three casteist leaders. In that garb, they have plundered UP and Bihar. In the garb of secularism, these people indulged in massive corruption. What is really sad is that the poor had to suffer at their hands.

‘Mulayam, Mayawati and Lalu Yadav are three casteist leaders. In that garb, they have plundered UP, Bihar’

Rahul Gandhi has said that he is in UP for a long innings. Will you also play a long innings in UP?
Do me a favour and ask Rahul whether he’s willing to sit as a leader of the UP Congress irrespective of the number of seats Congress wins. Is he fighting Assembly elections or will he later say ‘Ta-ta bye-bye’? I think to prove his mettle, he should fight UP elections this time. I have filed my nomination papers; I will become an MLA and sit in the Vidhan Sabha with Kalraj Mishra and Om Prakash Singh. What can you say of a politician who is not ready to fight?

Uma Bharti was always known as a firebrand leader. But now we are seeing a mellower version. What changed?
See, during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, a cassette of Sadhvi Rithambara was being circulated in my name. It was extremely popular and nobody believed me when I said the voice was not mine. Later on, Anju Gupta, Additional SP of Faizabad, gave evidence in my favour. When people remember that cassette, they get the impression that I have mellowed down. In my party, I’m known as cool-headed and confident.

Lastly, how many seats will the BJP win?
We will form the government.

Brijesh Pandey is Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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MBCs Come Into Their Own

The wooing of the MBC vote arises out of meticulous calculations about their numerical strength and need for an identity, writes Virendranath Bhatt

Kushwaha’s entry in BJP caused a stir
Kushwaha’s entry in BJP caused a stir

IF THE upper caste vote went to the Bahujan Samaj Party in the 2007 UP Assembly election, in 2012 the Most Backward castes (MBCs) among the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) seems poised to perform that role. The OBCs constitute 54.05 percent of the state’s population, with the Yadavs constituting 19 percent and the MBC share being as high as 70 percent.

Two decades after the Mandal Commission report was implemented, political parties have realised the electoral potential of the MBCs, epitomised by tainted former BSP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha finding a berth in the BJP.

The MBCs seem to be ready to flock to anyone who gives them a political identity. This development is making the Samajwadi Party jittery, which sees it as an attempt to break the unity of the OBCs.

“This is only the beginning. The deprived castes among the SCs will follow the MBCs,” says AK Verma, a political analyst. “The Jatavs cornered almost the entire benefit of reservation under the BSP and the Congress.’’ If the MBCs are with Mulayam Singh Yadav, according to Verma, it is because he only took care of the interests of his own community.

Corroboration for this generalisation can be found in the report of the Social Justice Committee constituted by the BJP-led regime of Rajnath Singh in 2001. It records that in 1995- 98, out of 6,984 jawans recruited in the PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary), 3,695 candidates were from the OBCs. Out of this, as many as 2,472 (67 percent) were from one OBC caste, the Yadavs. In its analysis, “Castebased politics gave rise to a practice of appointing persons of a particular caste on all important constitutional and higher echelons of the government and larger public interest was sacrificed for the interest of a particular caste”.

The committee, headed by cabinet minister Hukum Singh, a Gujjar from Muzaffarnagar, had set the ball rolling for the political mobilisation of the MBCs and division of 27 percent quota for OBCs among the backward, more backwards and most backward as per their share in OBC population, which is already in practice in Bihar and parts of south India.

The committee report got a hostile reception from the SP and a section of OBC leaders from the BJP. The committee had recommended the split of 27 percent quota for OBCs into three parts: 5 percent for the backwards, 9 percent for the more backwards and 14 percent for the most backwards. The first category included only one caste: the Yadavs; the second had eight castes while the third included 70 caste groups. Acting on the report, the Rajnath Singh government amended the UP Public Service (Reservation for SC and OBCs) Act. The SP opposed the legislation while the BSP supported it. It was challenged in the Supreme Court, which gave an interim stay. Mayawati, who took over as CM for the third time in May 2002 with BJP support, decided to repeal the law.

Thus the decision by all political parties to woo the most backward castes among the OBCs is no sudden development.

But how did these OBCs become the most backward? Political analysts say that historically, all the measures for democratic devolution, political, social and economic development since independence have benefited only peasant-proprietors or farmers, while the landless MBCs were left in the lurch. They also failed to develop a caste solidarity.

”The zamindari abolition, green revolution, white revolution, the community development project initiated in 1955 from Etawah district immensely benefited dominant castes like the Yadavs, Kurmis, Lodhs, Gujjars and Jats while the MBCs being the occupational caste got nothing,” says Ashutosh Mishra, political analyst.

This, he explains, was the pattern across the nation as Nairs in Kerala, Vokaliggas and Lingayats in Karnataka, Reddy and Kammas in Andhra Pradesh, Patidars in Gujarat and Marathas in Maharashtra were the beneficiaries of similar political reform.

Mishra says the dominant castes among the OBCs, which were identified as ‘kulak’, later morphed into a formidable political formation ‘AJGAR’ (Ahir-Jat- Gujjar-Rajput), which was instrumental in the rout of the Congress in the 1989 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the entire Hindi belt. This social coalition got further consolidated with the Mandalisation by the then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh in August 1990, when he headed the National Front government at the Centre.

With the rainbow coalition of backwards vanishing, smaller caste groups — the MBCs — hold the key to power in UP. This is bad news for most established players. Matters have come full circle. Mandalite politicians are busy turning his recommendations on their head.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, however many seats go to MBCs, they will get a clear political identity this time, which will only consolidate in future elections. It is time for the dominant Yadavs to face the music.

Political analyst recall that LR Naik, a member of the Mandal Commission, had recommended there should be two categories in the reservation for the OBCs: the first category should include the depressed backward classes with 15 percent quota for them and remaining 12 percent for the intermediate backward classes. However his demand was turned down by BP Mandal.

Naik, in his dissent note, had written that “the ancient adage that if a big fish and a small fish are put together, the former swallow the latter is still very relevant in the context of the caste hierarchical society of India”.

Naik concluded, “In all fairness and in view of the fact that the depressed backward classes are comparable in terms of backwardness to those of the SC and ST, I recommend 15 per cent reservation for them out of 27 percent both in public service and educational institutions”. But he did not win the day

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