Fundamentalists dealt setback in India vote

By B. Prasant, in People's Weekly World,
2 November, 1996

The the cradle of Indo-Islamic culture, political laboratory of India's freedom struggle, Uttar Pradesh, with an electorate of just over 10 billion represents the most important province of India as far as political primacy is concerned. Famed for its multilingual, multiethnic, multidenominational character, it prides itself on its unique brand of socio-cultural distinctness.

And yet, what Uttar Pradesh has lacked traditionally has been political stability. In particular, the last decade has been witness to a frightening rate of attenuation of elected provincial governments as a fractured electorate managed to send four chief ministers packing in a span of just under six-and-a-half years. With political instability has come non-governance and administrative breakdown, misrule and instability.

Uttar Pradesh elections mean a mini-general election, a showcase that would delineate the shape of the things to come in the national political scenario. This time around, there were several features to the pre-electoral milieu that all past elections have lacked: Congress, the major player in Uttar Pradesh politics, was in a sorry state. It had been voted out of office in Delhi and had since been seen to struggle against a rapid fracturing of its district party units with charges of corruption being leveled against its top-level leadership, including the conviction of former prime minister Rao in a cheating case.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) makes no secret of its sordid Hindu fundamentalist stance. The electoral debacle that had followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayuodhya in 1991 haunted it. The Bahujan Samaj Party, which prides itself on its distinct caste bias, was not sure of its electoral chances, what with 13-party alliance of United Front having succeeded in cutting the ground from under its feet by exposing its propensity to enter into alliances with Congress which it publicly kept denouncing as a Manuvadi (or upper caste) political entity.

The United Front itself was handicapped by the lack of coordination among its constituents, despite the strenuous efforts put in by the two Communist parties, the CPI and the CPI (Marxist), in seeking to organize last-minute patchups. The Communists themselves have a not too strong electoral base in Uttar Pradesh, a direct fallout of the inability to convert the wide mass base they possess into electoral gains.

Political pundits of the media had confidently predicted that the BJP would have no difficulty in attaining the requisite 213 seats in the 424-seat-strong Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Indeed, as results started to trickle in, Sushma Swaraj, the suave spokesperson of the BJP was telling journalists that the United Front-run central government would have to renege on its traditional stance vis-a-vis BJP as a party of "right-wing Hindu fundamentalists."

Swaraj had to do a quick doubletake when it increasingly became apparent that there was no way BJP was going to get the magical 213 seats. Indeed, even with the secular vote getting divided in these elections between the United Front constituents and the Congress, BJP had received a slap in the face from the Uttar Pradesh electorate who had earlier allowed BJP to sweep as many as 236 Assembly seats during the parliamentary elections earlier this year. BJP was also not able to match the figure of 221 seats it had secured in 1991, falling short also of the 177 Assembly seats it had garnered in 1993.

The secular vote got split this time but the fact that the secular parties together won just over 70 percent of the total came as a shock to the BJP which had counted on a big win in Uttar Pradesh to try and have a second go at forming a government at the center.

While the Uttar Pradesh electorate had rejected the BJP, the United Front, despite coming a close second, was not able to get the kind of voting pattern it had envisioned. And since no single party/grouping managed to get the required number of seats that would enable it to form the provincial government, status quo was yet again in force with the central government having little option to continuing with the direct rule from Delhi - something the province had experienced ever since the misrule of the Bahujan Party Government came to an inglorious end a couple of years back.

The two Communist parties have appealed to all secular forces that had been in the fray for the Uttar Pradesh elections to ensure that the BJP did not get to indulge in unseemly "horse trading" in "buying up" support in a bid to form the provincial government. But would this mean that the United Front would be willing to have some kind of understanding with even the Congress? We shall have to wait and see.

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