Monday, January 9, 2012

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ January 08, 2012

Politics of Divisiveness Has Already Won the Uttar Pradesh Elections

It is the largest state of India. Home to a fifth of our population, every seventh Lok Sabha member comes from it. If that wasn’t enough, the gargantuan state of Uttar Pradesh has also produced eight of the 13 duly elected prime ministers of India. Over the years, it has not only suffered geographical shrinkage, but has also lost some of its political clout. It is no longer in a position to influence the national agenda or impose anything on it. A Gandhi scion may be tasting its winter, and the heat and the dust of its dirtiest hamlets and seamy slums, but even his succession will depend on the performance of his party in states other than Uttar Pradesh. There is hardly any catchy slogan, forget about any blueprint for change. Even after the declarations of the election schedule, none of the parties has been able to present a credible election manifesto even if they will forget it after the elections. From the Congress and BJP to the smallest regional parties, all have been looking for the right text of social engineering to forge a winning caste coalition.
As the countdown for elections to the 403-member Assembly begins, the state remains locked in its worst-ever caste and community war. It is no more a fight between ideologies. None of the dozen odd parties in the election fray are talking of better governance, but are loudly proclaiming the caste and community affiliations of each candidate. Last week, when election committees of various parties met in New Delhi and Lucknow to finalise their candidates, they looked at the caste and religion of their candidates first and not winnability on merit alone. While the Congress party didn’t leave any chance to attack the Mayawati government, it indulged in the lowest kind of votebank politics by raising the issue of reservation in government jobs for minorities. For the past seven years, the UPA hardly bothered to ensure any caste- or religion-based reservation. Suddenly, on the eve of the elections, it has discovered more backwardness and poverty only among minorities. Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav has even gone to the extent of promising a constitutional amendment to exceed the cap of 50 per cent reservation. Even the BJP hasn’t been immune to the caste virus, going out of its way to woo leaders of different communities, even if some are involved in heinous crimes or are being investigated by the CBI.

Indulging in competitive politics is not new to political parties in Uttar Pradesh, but it used to be camouflaged behind the high-sounding principles of social equality and justice. It was the Congress policy of ignoring its regional satraps that led to the birth of caste and community leaders like Charan Singh, Mulayam, Kalyan Singh and later Mayawati. With both the Congress and the BJP failing to promote or retain their tall caste leaders, the natural beneficiaries have been regional parties like the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). None of them have ever presented an alternative agenda for governance but they have provided political power to those who had neither jobs nor social acceptability.

In a state where a Dalit or a backward caste couldn’t dream of an important position, the deprived now have the pride and power that comes from an ever-rising share in political power. The state remains at the bottom of national growth pyramid but a large percentage of its socially and economically backward population is now governed by people from their own caste and community. Mayawati’s government may have squandered development funds and encouraged corruption but it has given the largest-ever representation to Dalits and other most backward communities in running the state. Over 30 per cent of its district police and administrative chiefs are from deprived sections. A large number of senior secretarial posts have been given to those who were earlier ignored because of their caste. A state which sent some of the finest civil servants to important ministries at the Centre has now been turned into a haven of castecracy, and not meritocracy.

The February elections are unlikely to reverse the trend. With all parties and leaders coming together—directly or indirectly—to dislodge the mighty Mayawati from her caste-embedded throne, the battlelines between castes and communities are becoming sharper. Local political watchers say every party is divided into numerous caste groups. If the BSP is divided into four sub-caste groups, both the BJP and the Congress have more than a dozen each followed closely by the SP with six caste factions. Current indications are that no party will get an absolute majority. Whatever the outcome, the message from Uttar Pradesh is on the wall. It is going to be a win for divisive politics and a defeat for clean politics and responsive governance. The two national parties are to blame.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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