In Uttar Pradesh,the SP and the BJP are going back to the Nineties.
Since the early 2000s,it seemed that development was back on the political agenda in the Hindi heartland with the weakening of identity politics. The Bahujan Samaj Party,on assuming power in 2007 in Uttar Pradesh,declared it would ensure the development of all sections and regions,rather than adopt Dalit-oriented policies as in the past. The Samajwadi Partys landslide victory in the March 2012 assembly elections and the appointment of 39-year-old Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister was described as the Nitish moment for UP. It raised expectations that a young,educated chief minister,firmly rooted in ground realities of the state,would introduce sweeping reforms and all-round development.
Today,there is growing public disappointment as Akhilesh has failed to maintain law and order,provide clean governance or development and is struggling to maintain control over an internally divided party. Viewed as soft and inexperienced,the chief minister has not been able to prevent corruption and does not have a grip on the bureaucracy or the police,which has led to the collapse of governance. Time has been spent on distributing laptops and renaming welfare policies of the previous government; no new or innovative programme has emerged. The failure to control crime is evident in the murder of the deputy superintendent of police Zia-ul-Haq,allegedly at the behest of mafia don Raja Bhaiya.
The fundamental problem is the decay of the SP,a party whose roots lay in the socialist/ backward caste movement,into a family fiefdom with criminal links and numerous factions controlled by Mulayam Singh Yadav,his brothers Shivpal and Ram Gopal,and Azam Khan,a senior leader from Rampur. As a result,a weak chief minister,even if he has vision,would not be able to make independent or bold decisions for fear of dividing the party. A glaring example is Akhileshs withdrawal of his choice of principal secretary.
The most serious problem is the rising communal violence,creating low-intensity communal polarisation since the SP assumed power,despite the absence of any Hindutva campaign as in the early 1990s. In the first 10 months of the SP government,there were 104 incidents of communal violence that left 34 people dead and 456 injured. Communal riots began in Pratapgarh district in June 2012,spread to Mathura,Faizabad and Bareilly,which did not experience such incidents even during the demolition of the Babri Masjid,and further across the state. The failure of the police and bureaucracy is being attributed to their being demoralised as the administration is not backing them,making them spectators to the violence. A contributory factor was the attempt by the SP government,as promised in its election manifesto,to review all error cases against Muslim youth who,it argued,had been falsely framed by the BSP. But this was disallowed by the Allahabad High Court in 2012,which held this could encourage terrorism.
In a situation where the government is bereft of any substantial development programme,and there is a breakdown of law and order,building votebanks based on Hindu-Muslim polarisation is on the campaign agenda of the SP and the BJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Two recent developments point in this direction: the shifting of Amit Shah from Gujarat to UP by the BJP and his attempts to revive the Hindutva agenda of a Ram temple at the disputed site; and the recent stage-managed confrontation between the BJP and SP over the chaurasi kosi parikrama yatra organised by the VHP. The 20-day yatra,involving a 252 km parikrama,was to start from Ayodhya on August 25,pass through 600 villages with a sizeable Muslim population,across six districts,and culminate in Ayodhya on September 13. But on August 20,the SP government banned the VHP from holding it as a pre-emptive measure against communal flare-up. Tight security arrangements prevented volunteers from reaching Ayodhya,borders with neighbouring states were sealed and large numbers of VHP activists,including Praveen Togadia,were arrested. The BJP supported the efforts of the VHP; the BSP,accusing the SP of creating a communal divide,demanded the imposition of presidents rule in the state. The Congress,lacking grassroots organisation,was conspicuous by its absence.
An analysis of UP politics suggests that when the SP is in power and communally charged situations emerge,it is the BJP that benefits. Both parties are on a weak footing today and have joined hands to create communal disharmony and obtain votes. Unable to engineer state-wide communal polarisation,the BJP is apparently trying to orchestrate Hindu-Muslim tension wherever possible. Outwardly,the BJP described the ban as a move by the SP to appease Muslims,while the SP has described the BJP as a Hindu communal party. The BJP is using the VHP,a spent force in UP,and hopes to revive itself by aggressively upholding the right of the Hindu community to hold a religious event in a secular democracy. Senior VHP leader Ashok Singhal asked Mulayam to convince Muslim clerics and leaders to agree to build the Ram temple. Through such moves,the SP hopes to bring more Muslims into its fold,while the BJP hopes to revive Hindu communal forces and benefit in 2014.
UP is a politically important state and battlelines are being drawn for the national elections. An aspirational younger generation is disturbed and the middle-class angry as the promised benefits of post-liberalisation economic growth have proved elusive. Just when it seemed that UP had emerged from the destabilising turmoil of the 1990s,there is a slide back,as competitive,communal politics has reared its head again. Despite the sharp fall in economic growth,issues such as rising unemployment,inflation,poor law and order and access to education,have not been raised so far in the electoral campaign. In the approaching Lok Sabha elections,how political parties will exploit the widening faultlines in UP to their advantage will determine their electoral performance.
The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies and rector,Jawaharlal Nehru University,Delhi