Keeping up with UP | What unites and divides the politics of UP and Maharashtra
To draw political analogies in a complex setup like India's is tough, but there are lessons and precedents from up north (UP) for the west (Maharashtra) during this political turmoil.
Political strategists have different poll recipes for different states, because each state has its complexities. Thus, it is usually not prudent to draw political analogies, especially in a fluid and fast-changing scenario. But then, a mere semblance of similarities can sometimes uncover the plan and the possibilities.
Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the north and Maharashtra in the west have little in common. Yet, there is an emotional connect, as the latter is the second home to many north Indians, primarily from UP and Bihar. It also has a wafer-thin political bond.
On June 30, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to propel Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde to the coveted chair of the chief minister, it was clear that the party was less interested in grabbing power, and more in rocking the Shiv Sena boat, with which it shares the Hindutva space.
The Shiv Sena is a regional party founded by Bal Thackeray in 1960.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena then had reportedly entered into an unwritten understanding during his prime days, according to which the former was to pursue national dreams, while the latter was content in confining its politics to Maharashtra. However, the aspirations of both parties grew with time.
In 2019, the new, more aggressive BJP saw political space in Maharashtra, especially after the Shiv Sena broke the pre-poll pact and struck an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, and, in the process, diluted Hindutva.
To emerge as a favourite party of the state, the BJP launched a no-holds-barred battle to fly the saffron flag across Maharashtra after the betrayal by the ideological brother. The route it took went through Thane.
Can Eknath Shinde be Maha's Mayawati?
It was before the 1993 UP Vidhan Sabha elections, held months after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, that the founder-presidents of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav, joined hands to defeat the BJP.
Kanshi Ram had by then emerged as a Dalit leader. After creating a network of BAMCEF (the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation), he floated its political wing, the BSP, on April 14, 1984. Though political parties started noticing him in 1988, it was in 1989 that the party won three Lok Sabha seats — two in UP and one in Punjab.
Mulayam Singh Yadav had bitter experiences during his political journey that started with his maiden election to the Vidhan Sabha in 1967. He led the Lok Dal, the Janata Dal, and the Kranti Kari Morcha before floating the SP in October 1992.
So, when the Sangh Parivar was building up the Ram temple hype after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya, Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav struck an electoral alliance to consolidate what they perceived to be 85% of the Bahujan Samaj comprising Dalits, backwards, and minorities (the remaining 15% belonged to upper castes), and the BJP was seen as an upper-caste party.
This rattled the BJP as their foot soldiers for the temple movement were drawn from backward communities, with a Dalit laying the shilanayas (foundation) of the Ram temple in 1989.
The consolidation of Bahujan Samaj under the SP-BSP umbrella was also a red flag to their political dreams, because it wanted to win the state through the demolition. The BJP, along with the Congress, fanned Mayawati’s political ambitions, offering the chief minister’s post. By then cracks had also appeared in the coalition government, as their respective vote-banks – the Yadavs and Dalits — were socially incompatible.
The alliance had a violent collapse.
On June 3, 1995, Mayawati was sworn in as the chief minister of the state with outside support from the BJP. Though the BJP was a bigger party with 177 members in a House of 425, it decided to let Mayawati — with a mere 67 members — enjoy power as their bigger game was to demolish the alliance on an acrimonious note. After four months, the BJP withdrew support as it grew intolerant of Mayawati's political actions, which disrupted its game plan.
The political wheel kept moving with both the BSP and the BJP having a shot at power in a politically unstable environment. It took 24 years for Mulayam and Mayawati to put aside their differences and come together for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The mistrust persisted and their voters refused to accept it.
The BJP could have easily formed the government in UP, a more stable arrangement in 1995. But they propelled Mayawati for a larger game that paid them huge dividends. Similarly, the BJP in Maharashtra also preferred to hand over the chair to Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde. Perhaps, Uddhav Thackeray had some inkling of it when he had challenged the BJP to appoint a Shiv Sainik as chief minister.
In 1995, right after her swearing-in, Mulayam’s words, that the Congress had "committed suicide" by making Mayawati chief minister (as Dalits will never return to the Congress) proved partially true in UP.
Is the BJP making a similar mistake by pitting a Shiv Sainik against a Shiv Sainik?
The rebels have not uttered a word against the Thackeray family.
Will Shinde, with or without the support of Uddhav’s estranged cousin and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, eventually succeed in throwing the Thackerays’ Shiv Sena on the fringes of the state’s political landscape? As of now, with a vertical split in the Shiv Sena, not only in the legislature party, but also in the organisation, it looks inevitable.
What if the battle starts for the real Shiv Sena and reaches the Election Commission (EC)’s court?
The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 empowers the EC to recognise political parties and allot symbols. In case of a split, where the party is either vertically divided or it is not possible to say with certainty which group has a majority, the EC may freeze the party’s symbol and allow the groups to register themselves with new names or add prefixes or suffixes to the party’s existing names.
What if the Election Commission freezes the Shiv Sena’s symbol ahead of the assembly elections? It has happened in the past. In October 2021, it had frozen the election symbol of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar after a tussle between Chirag Pawan, son of founder president, the late Ram Vilas Paswan, and his uncle Pashupati Paras reached the EC. This will certainly create confusion as people in the rural areas often identify parties with the symbol.
The learnings from the Maha chaos
Some experts are of the view that the BJP’s strategy is a mix of UP and Bihar. Like in UP, where they used Mayawati to break Bahujan Samaj, in Bihar, they play second fiddle to Nitish Kumar to keep him away from Lalu Yadav. The Yadav-Kurmi bonhomie is dangerous to their plans.
There are also precedents of all kinds.
One, the Congress of the past survived its "symbol challenges" as people identified themselves with Indira Gandhi. Do the Thackerays have that charisma?
Two, splinter parties have disappeared into thin air after they have served their purpose. Even the Congress(T) floated by veterans like ND Tiwari and Sharad Pawar had to remerge with the original Congress party. Will Shinde do that?
The coming days will unfold many more twists and turns in the sordid tale of Maharashtra. As of now, the BJP looks like it's making gains, while the Shiv Sena is in the doldrums, facing its worst existential crisis.
From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to Uttar Pradesh
The views expressed are personal