Monday, January 16, 2012

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ January 15,2012

Uttar Pradesh Elections are Over for Big Two Even Before Polling Day

As the countdown to the five state Assembly polls begins, both ideologies and credible individual leaders are conspicuous by their absence. With the collapse of central authority and direction in all political parties, a few individuals are dictating the political discourse only to be disowned immediately by their respective High Commands. A couple of political incidents that took place in the last two weeks in Uttar Pradesh reflect the complete disconnect between the Central and state leaderships of two mainstream national parties — the Congress and the BJP. Both are in the fight not to win but to keep their current rankings in the Assembly. While the BJP with 51 seats occupies third position, the Congress with just 21 MLAs stands fourth. However, the confusion was much more pronounced in the Congress as its chief Sonia Gandhi took a backseat, leaving election management and manipulation to her son Rahul and a few other individuals. As its election strategy unfolded, it was evident that the party had taken a plunge without defining the tide. It is perhaps for the first time a statement made by a Union minister during the elections was rejected by his own party and a claim made by the most sought-after AICC office-bearer was dismissed by his government. There was yet another surprise in store for the voters. Home Minister P Chidambaram slaughtered the three-year-old campaign launched by party General Secretary Digvijaya Singh aimed at capturing the minority vote.

It was the home minister who changed the direction of his own party’s Uttar Pradesh campaign. Diggy Raja always suspected the Batla House encounter in New Delhi on September 19, 2008, in which a Delhi Police officer lost his life, as staged. He made it an issue in Uttar Pradesh in which Muslims can influence the poll outcome in over 75 Assembly seats. Since Diggy has emerged as the most powerful Thakur leader who espouses the minorities’ cause than any other, he was expecting rich dividends. But the home minister not only rejected Diggy’s theory about a fake encounter, but also ruled out reopening the case. It is a different matter that both Chidambaram and Digvijaya have been at loggerheads on various issues. But questioning one of the most powerful Congress functionaries during election time, reflected the division between the party and the Government on sensitive issues.

The Chidambaram-Diggy episode symbolises the vulnerability of the ruling party in using the minority card. It was also reflected when Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi declared the statement made by Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid on minority reservations in government jobs was not the party’s view. Later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put Khurshid in an awkward spot when he assured the chief election commissioner that the commission was totally independent and not supervised by the Government as Khurshid had claimed in an interview. Even the law minister had no defined script to follow for the elections. With Rahul ploughing a lonely furrow in the mushy fields of Uttar Pradesh, most Congress leaders were inventing their own slogans and stories to win seats for themselves and their kin. The party that began the state elections with a bang seems to be losing its carefully crafted plot. The Congress offence was replaced with defence. Instead of taking on its opponents on issues like the aborted Lokpal Bill, corruption and an irresponsible BSP government, the party was faced with the most serious charge of dividing the country along communal lines.

Fortunately for the Congress, its national rival, the BJP was also in a similar state of political paralysis. Its central leaders were hopelessly divided on the induction of tainted defectors from the BSP. They were confused about their enemy No. 1. While the state leaders targeted Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, its central leaders were obsessed with the Congress. From the tone and tenor of their speeches, it was obvious they were fighting the Congress to only protect their number three position in Uttar Pradesh. Like the Congress, the saffron party was also caught in caste conflicts while projecting its leader during the run-up to the elections. An upper caste combination and elitist leaders dominated its central leadership, while its state unit was controlled by backward class and middle class leaders who wanted one among them to be projected as the potential chief minister.

With the national parties struggling to find their feet, both the SP and the BSP are better placed in terms of their mission and means. They are fighting to retain or wrest power. However, they too are caught in the defection game, unsure about either their manifesto or election machinery. However, both have left the national parties far behind. It is quite clear: the Centre can’t hold it any
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