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UP polls: The choice,and why it may hurt

BJP hopes fielding Uma in UP can serve many purposes. But here as in her home state,few leaders want her.

By allowing Uma Bharti to contest the election from Charkhari in UP’s Bundelkhand,the BJP has made its second audacious experiment in less than a month.

The first was Babu Singh Kushwaha’s induction,inspired by a great hope that he would engineer an OBC mobilisation strong enough to propel the BJP to victory. That experiment had to be abandoned in less than a week in the face of protests within the ranks,although the party is still coping with the fallout.

The second experiment is in a class apart. Uma Bharti is no shady character like Kushwaha,nor is she a stranger to the BJP. Unlike Kushwaha,she also has a political past and is a recognisable face. She is articulate and can be aggressive.

By allowing her to contest,the BJP has sent a clear signal that she is not one of those numerous campaigners who arrive from other states to lend a helping hand. And she serves several purposes. She provides a face to a faceless campaign,fills the glaring vacancy of a woman leader in the top ranks of the UP BJP and,being an OBC member,can help the BJP reach out to such communities,whom every party is wooing these days.

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Maybe,the BJP also thought that in the context of the Congress’s 4.5 per cent quota for backward Muslims within the OBC quota,which it has promised to double,and the Samajwadi Party offering a still higher quota,Uma Bharti has an added special relevance.

Can anyone be a better candidate than a rabble-rousing sadhvi of Ram Temple movement vintage to lead a campaign for OBC consolidation,or even a larger Hindu consolidation?

Looks excellent,except for two points.

One,the unproven utility of borrowing a leader for one state’s election from another state in the last days of the campaign. In Uma Bharti’s case,she also lacks a history of serious involvement in UP’s politics and issues,except occasional forays,until she and the BJP discovered her UP roots.

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On Thursday,Rahul Gandhi,who is touring Bundelkhand,was quick to ask,“Where was she when Bundelkhand was dying in drought?”

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh added his bit,“She has been sent to UP because nobody wants her in her home state,Madhya Pradesh.”

He was right. For,when the BJP decided to bring Uma Bharti back after her six-year exile in June last year,MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had reportedly told party president Nitin Gadkari that he could send her anywhere,but not to Madhya Pradesh. Gadkari then announced she would have “a prominent role” in the UP poll campaign.

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That is how Uma Bharti came to UP,and that leads to the second point,which is an unease in the state BJP over the manner in which,many think,she has been thrust on them.

Right in the beginning,it was clear that few UP leaders really wanted her. But,over the next seven months,ignoring their reservations,the central leadership paved the way for her,step by step,until she became the proverbial camel in the tent.

Initially,it was said that she would work independently of the UP BJP. Sanjay Joshi,who is responsible for overseeing the UP campaign — he and Gadkari are the two Nagpurites managing the UP elections for the BJP — was supposed to take care of logistics and co-ordination.

Most UP leaders were satisfied with that arrangement. Much to their discomfort,however,Uma Bharti was inducted in the state election committee by a fiat from the top. Next,she was given an office in the state BJP headquarters. Then,she was named leader of the party’s “BJP lao,Pradesh bachao” campaign from December 1 and a Jal Yatra from December 6 — both of which,however,fizzled out.

A few weeks ago,Gadkari announced that Uma Bharti,along with state party president Surya Pratap Shahi,vice-president Kalraj Mishra,and former chief minister Rajnath Singh,will constitute the collective leadership of the UP election campaign.

Now comes the decision to field her from Charkhari.

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The result is a crisis of trust. Gadkari may say that the party chief minister will be decided by MLAs after the elections,but no one in UP BJP is prepared to accept that Gadkari hasn’t already made his choice. It is another matter that most in the party doubt that the BJP can win enough seats to form a government.

In spite of the unhappiness,there won’t be any open protests because,unlike Kushwaha,Uma Bharti is not an “outsider”. How this will affect the elections is anyone’s guess.

First published on: 20-01-2012 at 12:40:56 am
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