The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Behind revolt, forces regroup in heartland

New Delhi, Oct. 30: On the surface, the recent upsurge of rebellion in the Uttar Pradesh BJP was triggered by the denial of ministerships to some legislators. But at a subterranean level, the coming together of the Samajwadi Party, a section of the BJP and the Independents may see a new social coalition emerging.

It would be a coalition of the land-owning castes, comprising the Thakurs, Yadavs, Kurmis, Jats, and a section of Muslims.

If this coalition crystallises into a political formation, it may signal the end of caste-based and the start of class-based politics in Uttar Pradesh. It would mean farewell to the volatile era of Mandal-mandir politics with economic issues gaining an upper hand over caste and religious sentiments.

On the other side of the socio-political divide would be the marginal and landless classes who happen to be from the most backward castes, the Dalits and the poor Muslims.

The pattern of rebellion indicates that most of the dissidents were Thakurs, Yadavs, Kurmis, Jats and wealthy Muslims from the land-owning classes of western Uttar Pradesh. The Jats and Muslims were from Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), a party of kulaks who benefited from the scrupulous enforcement of the Zamindari Abolition Act by the late Charan Singh and the Green Revolution.

This class felt unsettled by certain radical economic proposals mooted by chief minister Mayavati. One of her first moves was registering tenants ploughing and tilling land holdings. In the feudal milieu of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where Charan Singh’s writ did not run, this was regarded a “major move”, with landlords likening it to stage one of Bengal’s Operation Barga. This class felt registering tenants was a prelude to conferring right of tenure on them.

Though Mayavati went slow after the BJP raised a hue and cry, she regularised holdings on “gram sabha” land held by the government on which jhuggis and jhopadis were set up. Most of these settlements are occupied by the Dalits. On the past two occasions she attempted this, the BJP pulled out of the coalition without citing this as a reason.

But the upper castes have historically arrogated to themselves the right to any unoccupied land, including “gram sabha” land, and demanded rent from jhuggi-jhopadi dwellers. This “right” was taken away by Mayavati. Her decision to introduce quotas in allotment of ration shops also displeased them as it ended their monopoly over the public distribution system.

Given the radical character of these policies, political observers were bemused when the CPM put its weight behind the Samajwadi endeavour to topple the BJP-BSP coalition. But BSP sources said that after the recent revolt, Mayavati is unlikely to implement policies that would upset her ally.

For the record, the BJP claimed the crisis had blown over. “There is no threat to the government and no major problem is seen,” said spokesman Arun Jaitley.

But veteran Kushabhau Thakre — who was once in charge of Uttar Pradesh — was rushed there yesterday after Rajnath Singh’s efforts to break the deadlock achieved little.

The buzz in the BJP was that the rebels were “indirectly encouraged” by Rajnath, a Thakur, who was opposed to the BSP alliance from the start.

The BJP continued to wield the carrot and the stick. A functionary said central leaders were willing to speak to the rebels provided they stick to voicing grievances. But he warned that those who indulged in anti-party activities like hobnobbing with the Samajwadi would have “a lot of explaining to do”.

The suspended MLAs will have to explain their conduct and “make suitable amends” before the high command considers revoking their suspension.

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