THE political Opposition has rarely, if ever, been as invisible in Uttar Pradesh as it is in Yogi Adityanath’s tenure. A non-existent Opposition is an anomaly in a politically vibrant state whose paan and tea joints and village chaupal (squares) morph into debating spaces at sundown. The high-decibel discussions that span international and domestic issues throw up insights of startling profundity seldom heard in the highfalutin seminar rooms of cities. Even the bucolic era of the Congress shaped feisty characters like Ram Manohar Lohia, Chaudhary Charan Singh and, later, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who challenged the establishment of the day in the legislative Assembly and on the stump. Where has the zip-zap gone?
Migrated to Twitter, it would seem, but bereft of the vitality that the Opposition once infused into the street fights. The principal protagonists seated on the other side of the fence — Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — have embraced Twitter as a medium to ask the occasional disconcerting question without provoking accusations of being inflammatory or defamatory.
In an order which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules with an iron fist sans the velvet glove, the Opposition’s belief seems to be better safe than sorry. Doubtless, Priyanka went twice to Umbha village in Sonbhadra district to commiserate with the families of those who were killed and injured in a land dispute involving the powerful Gujjar and less-empowered tribes, but the impact of her trips petered out once the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) refrained from putting up a combined fight, giving enough and more leeway to the BJP government to combat the perception of being anti-people and quell dissent on the ground.
Of the three Opposition parties, the BSP keeled over more than what, some would say, was called for. Its president Mayawati tried hard to warm up to the BJP after snapping ties with the SP. She used every chance to torpedo Opposition solidarity in Parliament, went against the grain and voted in support of the triple talaq Bill and the abrogation of Article 370. Outside Parliament, Mayawati ticked off the Congress and the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) for travelling to Kashmir to assess the situation and endorsed the arrest of P. Chidambaram. Mayawati sacked her Amroha MP Danish Ali as the BSP’s Lok Sabha leader for speaking up against the triple talaq Bill.
Frankly, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav came across as clueless in picking his way out of the quagmire he finds himself in after three serial defeats. He went around in circles on the repeal of Article 370 and if it were not for the fact that three of his five Lok Sabha MPs are Muslims, he might have been ambivalent over triple talaq. One of the MPs, the outspoken Azam Khan, challenged Akhilesh to take a clear stand.
The Congress is in for the long haul in UP, although Priyanka’s sallies to the hinterland sparked hopes of a revival. But the recovery is incumbent on a more committed engagement from her, although there’s speculation that she might be put in charge of the entire state and not confined to a region. The Congress organisation can become robust only if the party shows results in elections and not the other way round. That reality is true for the SP and BSP as well.
How do Mayawati’s overtures towards the BJP help the BSP? Not in the least. Because while she has held on to her core base of Dalit-Jatav, she has forfeited a much vaster constituency of the other Dalit sub-castes, the backward castes and even some upper castes and Muslims to the BJP and the SP. The BSP cannot be more pro-Hindutva than the BJP.
To its grief, it dawned on the Congress that playing the ‘soft’ (whatever that means) Hindutva card would not blunt the BJP’s innate aggression on faith-related issues, just as the BJP’s dalliances with the minorities through the triple talaq route would be futile unless the government assured the Muslim and other communities of basic security and a level playing field.
Mayawati has reinforced the BJP’s pet theory of its opponents being wedded to rule-by-dynasty. She appointed her brother Anand Kumar as the BSP’s second-in-command and her nephew Akash Anand as a national coordinator. Anand is in a jam because the IT department attached an ‘illegal’ commercial property, book-valued at Rs 400 crore, that he owned in Noida. It was being given away to raise luxury facilities. Mayawati is embroiled in problems in her backyard to look at the big picture and spot a place for herself on the larger canvas. It’s almost as though escaping the ED or CBI’s clutches is good enough for her at the moment.
Akhilesh disbanded the SP’s organisational structures. But to what end, ask his colleagues. At the root of his challenges lie his family and pertinently, his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, who handled the SP’s nuts and bolts until he fell out with the nephew. The estrangement cost the SP its boroughs in west central UP that the BJP promptly conquered. Shivpal helped the BJP without himself gaining anything except putting Akhilesh in his place and demonstrating his organisational indispensability. Instead of reaching out to Shivpal, Akhilesh seems determined to carry on with the help of his other uncle Ramgopal Yadav, who is Shivpal’s bête noire.
The UP scenario is tailor-made to script another win for the BJP, its omissions and commissions notwithstanding. Never known for people’s pro-activism, the state that swears by the ‘mai-baap’ culture of political patronage is cursed by a lifeless Opposition that refuses to look inward and see where the fault lines lie.