Lucknow, April 6: This election was to be about caste but a day before it kicks off, efforts are on to partly redraw the battle lines.
The portents had come yesterday when an Allahabad High Court judge sought to strip Muslims of their minority status and the Election Commission cracked down on the BJP over a Muslim-bashing CD.
Although a division bench stayed the judge’s order today, the Samajwadi Party tried to squeeze it for all it’s worth and so did — to a lesser extent — the BJP.
What kept the BJP from a full-throated cry of “minority appeasement” was its preoccupation with bailing out its Lucknow (West) candidate, Lalji Tandon, and president Rajnath Singh after non-bailable FIRs were registered against them over the CD.
But there was no stopping Samajwadi Party spokesperson Virendra Bhatia as he crowed over how the government had burnt “the midnight oil” to prepare a special leave petition so the judge’s order could be stayed on a court holiday.
The controversy is a bonus for the Samajwadi Party at a time it faces urban anger over the government’s alleged patronage of criminals, and police’s large-scale recruitment of Yadavs who are accused of working for the ruling party.
Besides, Beni Prasad Verma and Ajit Singh have dumped the Samajwadi Party and taken along their Kurmi and Jat voters. The upper castes, especially the Thakurs, are looking towards the BJP again after Rajnath’s elevation as party chief.
Mulayam Singh Yadav was therefore counting his losses when the court handed him an opportunity to play on Muslims’ feelings of insecurity and consolidate their votes.
This feeling was evident in an announcement by Lucknow’s Muslim leaders last night that they wouldn’t allow processions on the Prophet’s birthday ever again. Last week, Sunni and Shia processionists had fought bitterly in Lucknow and Kanpur.
The Muslim leaders fear that their votes, which had consolidated after the Babri demolition, might split again. Their efforts to pre-empt this will help the ruling party.
The BJP, too, needs to try and polarise Hindu votes after getting outwitted in the caste stakes by Mayavati.
The party’s hopes to build on its civic poll gains were jolted when the Bahujan Samaj Party handed out the largest number of tickets to Brahmin candidates.
Teerath Ram Aggarwal, vice-president of the state traders’ association, said: “We, the Banias, are still the BJP’s backbone. But even if we vote cent per cent for the party, it can’t gain unless the Brahmins join in. Unfortunately, the BJP has lost credibility with Brahmin opinion-makers because it compromised on its core ideology.”
Another setback has been the RSS’s decision to stay in the background this election.
“We have issued a general appeal to the public to vote for the party that cares for Hindus. Every party has Hindu leaders… it’s for the swayamsevaks to interpret this message,” said Thakur Sanghata Singh, chief of the Sangh’s farmer front.
So, though the high court order was discussed in today’s shakhas, Singh said there was no proposal to weave a campaign around it.
The poll panel action over the CD has been another blow. The party is scrambling to ready a stand-by in case Tandon is barred from contesting.
The Samajwadi Party and the BJP may stir the communal water, Mayavati doesn’t care. “There is a huge groundswell in our favour, especially from the upper castes,” BSP spokesperson Sudhir Goel said.
In Bundelkhand, which includes Mulayam’s political turf of Etawah, Brahmins said they would vote BSP tomorrow.
“The first and instinctive choice for us Pandits is the Congress. But it’s weak and lacks the machinery to get the voters out. We would have voted BJP but we are sick of its two-facedness,” said Girish Shukla, owner of a tractor agency in Etawah.
Besides, in an election where law and order is on most people’s minds, Mayavati is seen as a tougher administrator than even the BJP’s Kalyan Singh.
With Mayavati having more or less captured its once-fabled “rainbow coalition” of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits, the Congress’s only concern is whether Rahul Gandhi’s roadshows would mean votes. The alliance with Mahendra Singh Tikait’s Bharatiya Kisan Union could bring a couple of seats in the western districts.
In Bundelkhand, a Congress bastion in the Indira-Rajiv era, the party has no organisation left. Except for seats like Jhansi city and Gharota, where its candidates have their own standing, it promises to be a steep climb for the party.