April 9, 2007 2:26:36 am
Political parties in Uttar Pradesh are coming up with different answers in response to the central question the electorate has put to them: why must they be voted in? As the state goes to the polls — Saturday saw its first phase — it may be useful to consider the arguments being put forward in various manifestos, advertisements and public meetings.
With caste becoming a common denominator, ideology is fast replacing caste as an effective instrument of political mobilisation. The Samajwadi Party is on the defensive. It is selling its report card through ads in the print and TV (read ‘Big B’) media. It is also using lesser fora, like the Jan Jagran Sansthan and the Sarvangeen Vikas Sansthan, to castigate its opponents. While party ads highlight the achievements of the government, those issued by these outfits target Mayawati as enemy number one, and Sonia-Manmohan as enemy number two.
The SP ads claim among other things that UP tops in attracting investments. It also strings together a list of achievements of the UP government, from raising the retirement age for teachers to 62 to building 412 bridges and 23,112 km of roads in three years. This is in addition to the advocacy of SP by its star ambassador ‘Big B’ on TV (“UP mein hai dam, kyunki jurm hai yahan kam”), which is becoming a subject of ridicule reminiscent of the ‘India Shining’ ads of the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Predictably, the manifesto promises Muslims an appropriate share in government jobs.
The BSP did not issue a party manifesto; it reasons that the ideology of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram is its manifesto. But Mayawati has charged Mulayam Singh with being a modern-day Kans and appealed to people to return her to power, like a modern-day Krishna, to end his misrule. The party is convincing its vote bank that its ‘inclusionary politics’ is designed to win a clear majority. Its focus is on winning over Brahmins and the upper castes; it projects its symbol, the elephant, as “haathi nahi Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai”.
The BJP’s arguments emphasise ‘nationalism’ and ‘development’. The manifesto talks of Hindutva, law and order, Vande Mataram in schools, modernising madrassa education, bringing in a POTA-like law. It also promises to control price rise, provide women 20 per cent reservation in government jobs and 50 per cent in panchayats and municipalities, waive loans and provide jobs to the families of farmers who committed suicide in Bundelkhand. The party’s projected CM, Kalyan Singh, charged the Congress, SP and BSP with indulging in Muslim appeasement, and held them responsible for the spread of the SIMI networks.
The Congress promotes Rahul Gandhi. The party promises a better UP with 10 per cent reservation to poor upper castes, and reservations for most backwards. The party cautions Muslims against the parties (read UDF/PDF) floated by Muslim clerics. Rahul Gandhi started on slippery ground with his claims on the Babri Masjid demolition, but later spoke of broader issues. He claimed that UP is where the Congress left it 15 years ago. How can those who did nothing in the last 15 years claim they can do something in the next five, he asked.
The smaller players are not far behind. The Samajwadi Kranti Dal of Beni Prasad Verma charges Mulayam Singh Yadav with hobnobbing with power brokers, and harbouring the criminal and corrupt. The major demand of the RLD’s Ajit Singh is a separate Harit Pradesh. The RLD competes in western UP where Tikait’s Bahujan Kisan Dal is in alliance with the Congress. The UDF appears as a party designed to undermine the votes of other parties. The Bharat Punarnirman Dal of IITians is promoting a clean politics. The Jan Morcha of V.P. Singh and Raj Babbar is targeting minorities, weavers and farmers, promising clean government and 8.5 per cent reservations for backward Muslims. The Muslim League condemns the Sachar Committee Report as a Congress gimmick. The Apna Dal and the JD(U) are with the BJP. The Lok Dal promises to scrap the Legislator’s Area Development Funds, impose a 25 per cent tax on goods manufactured by MNCs, and provide 52 lakh jobs to 50,000 village panchayats through cottage industries. Bharatiya Janashakti Party of Uma Bharati targets Advani, charges the BJP with being a party of power brokers, vows to follow the ideals of the erstwhile Jan Sangh, and commits itself to the mandir agenda. As for Left parties, they find themselves completely marginalised in this election.
These are the competing arguments. Every party knows well that these elections are crucial for its political profile and future. How will the people of UP respond? That, of course, is the big question.
The writer teaches politics in Christ Church College, Kanpur
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