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Uttar Pradesh: Congress Illusion

Congress Illusion The political scene in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due before February 2007, is clearly dominated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). And this polarisation is not just at the political realm. It is the culmination of a churning process, initiated in the1989 assembly elections when Mulayam Singh Yadav and V P Singh got together (as part of the then Janata Dal) to unsettle the Congress Party in the state. That was also when the BSP, at that time a new political outfit, secured 9.41 per cent of the votes polled. While the Janata Dal was the legatee of the Lok Dal-Socialist Party tradition in UP and the 1989 victory was part of a sequence of political events that began in India

UTTAR PRADESH

Congress Illusion

T
he political scene in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due before February 2007, is clearly dominated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). And this polarisation is not just at the political realm. It is the culmination of a churning process, initiated in the1989 assembly elections when Mulayam Singh Yadav and V P Singh got together (as part of the then Janata Dal) to unsettle the Congress Party in the state. That was also when the BSP, at that time a new political outfit, secured 9.41 per cent of the votes polled. While the Janata Dal was the legatee of the Lok Dal-Socialist Party tradition in UP and the 1989 victory was part of a sequence of political events that began in India’s largest state in 1967, the emergence of the BSP as a force marked the beginning of the decline of the Congress Party in the region. The exit of the dalit social constituency from the Congress fold significantly changed the course of politics in UP. And things have not been the same after that. The Congress’ share slumped by 10 percentage points over a short period – from 27.9 per cent in 1989 to 17.32 per cent in 1991. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained most from this decline as the shift in support took place in the post-Mandal era when large sections of the upper castes left the Congress to support the Hindutva party. However, the rise of the BJP in the state did not have any impact on the BSP. The latter retained its share of votes in the 1991 assembly elections, securing 9.44 per cent of the votes polled.

Against this background, the attempt by the Congress Party leadership to reinvent itself in UP does not seem to hold any promise. The Congress has pinned its hopes entirely on Rahul Gandhi. The presumption is that the social fragmentation that has left its mark on the political scene in the state and decimated the Congress can be reversed by presenting the party as representing all the social groups against the SP as well as the BSP, both of which are seen as mutually exclusive social groups. The presumption is that Rahul Gandhi can appeal to a cross section in the social sense just as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi did in their time. The problem is that this expectation is not based on facts nor does it take into account recent trends. The emergence of the BSP took away the dalits from the Congress, while the Muslims moved out after December 6, 1992. The upper castes then had no use for the Congress. All this was evident in the progressive decline of the Congress votes in the elections after 1991. The Congress Party’s share declined to 15.08 per cent in the 1993 assembly election and went down further to 8.29 per cent in 1996, despite an alliance with the BSP. In the 2002 assembly polls, there was a marginal increase (to 8.96 per cent) but this was not indicative of any major shift.

The cause for this decline was clearly rooted in the social churning that was witnessed in UP (and other parts of north India) during the 1980s and the fact that the old socio-political structure – controlled by the upper castes – had collapsed. This led to the foregrounding of a new dynamics guided by the conflict between the other backward classes (OBCs) and the dalits, represented in the political realm by the SP and the BSP, respectively. The upper castes, which steered and controlled the old social and political structure, have internalised the reality and are hence desperate to find a place in the new order. They constitute less than a quarter of the population and therefore cannot wield power without support from the “others’’. In other words, while the rajputs have veered towards the SP, the brahmins have shown an inclination to ally with the BSP. This leaves the Congress and the BJP without a social base in UP and throws up the possibility of these two “national” parties working for an alliance with either the SP or the BSP. Rahul Gandhi and his party have foreclosed the SP option, so will the Congress swallow its pride and agree to a marginal role in the BSP scheme of things? There is, indeed, a social basis to such an arrangement given the fact that the brahmins are willing, grudgingly though, to go with the BSP. As for the BJP, difficult times are ahead for the party because Mulayam Singh will obviously refuse to take the party on board.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly September 2, 2006

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