Friday, January 13, 2012

The MNS-like effect in UP….

Many conspiracy theories abound in Maharashtra about the “devious” Congress strategy to prop up the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) against the BJP-Shiv Sena combination. I don’t know if all such stories are true or not, but they sure makes for good political gossip!

Today’s Economic Times talks about a similar story in UP where a political party called “Peace party of India” took roots in 2008. The founder is a liver surgeon (can you believe it?!) called Mohammad Ayyub (the double y in the name indicates clearly that he believes in numerology!). Normally one would be tempted to vote for a liver surgeon – his variety of chopping chopping being rather more acceptable than that of a political party! Mohammad Ayyub complains about how existing parties have divided the state on grounds of religion and caste (Congress/BJP on religion; BSP/SP on caste) and how he intends to stay out of all this. Given his good reputation, he has managed to attract a fair degree of following. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, though his party didn’t win any seats, it managed to wrest 4.5% of the vote share – making it the 6th largest party in terms of votes. If the voting were to happen in the same pattern in the assembly elections now, he would get as many as 18 assembly seats (a number similar to what the Congress has in the present assembly in UP). He personally believes he can get 50 seats – and is contesting for as many as 230 seats.

But scratch the surface and the conspiracy starts to emerge. While he complains that the present parties have divided the state on religion and caste, his own proposition is no different. His core target group is made up of the Mahadalits (a word increasingly gaining traction these days!) – The weakest section of the dalits. And the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) amongst the OBCs. Together the two (Mahadalits and MBCs) apparently make up almost 54% of UP’s electorate. The third leg of his support base is unsurprisingly the Muslims - which make up 18% of UP. So if one were to add this entire equation up, it’s quite a potent combination. Ayyub hopes to get 50-60% of the Muslim vote and 25-30% of the MBCs/Mahadalits.

My first observation is that Ayyub’s language is the same as the language of the other politicians. He talks in caste and religion terms and is happy to divide the population up that way even while he accuses his opponents of doing this. He may be better educated, but he’s a savvy politician already – he knows what it takes to get votes in UP!

The second observation is that the only community he doesn’t appear to be targeting is the 21% Brahmin base in UP. Now that raises a curious question – how come he’s giving the Brahmins a go-by? After all, one would expect the educated and upper caste Brahmins to support a liver surgeon right? But Ayyub prefers to stay out of that segment – leaving it conveniently open for the BJP, which has the strongest hold on this segment.

Year back, when Raj Thackeray set up the MNS in 2006, his primary target base was the same as the Shiv Sena’s. Even his positioning was the same as the Shiv Sena’s (Sons of the Soil). This was a convenient set-up for the Congress – battling a tough battle as it was with the BJP-Shiv Sena team.

The comparisons between the MNS and Peace party of India are quite a lot. Both the parties accuse their so called “masters” quite strongly and openly. The MNS charges the Congress with being two-faced. The Peace party charges the BJP with dividing UP on religious lines. The reality may be very different. In politics, the truth is hidden beneath several layers of deceit. Is MNS the B-team of the Congress in reality? Is the Peace party a B-team of the BJP? No one will ever know though suspicions will remain. The other strange similarity between the MNS and the Peace party is that both got exactly the same vote share in the previous state elections – 4.5%. This made the MNS the sixth largest party in Maharashtra after the Congress, NCP, BJP, Shiv Sena and the Third front. Exactly the same as the Peace Party! Again, MNS got 13 seats in the last assembly elections in Maharashtra – similar to the 18 that Ayyub would have got basis the Lok Sabha performance of his party! Interesting coincidences, aren’t they?!

In a highly fractious election like happens in Maharashtra and UP, even a few % points of vote swings can make a difference between a winner and a loser. There are perhaps few other states where the votes are split so widely – where so many political parties exist. In most states, it is a two or three way contest – usually the Congress is one party and the other party could be a regional party or the BJP. In TN it is the DMK, AIADMK and the Congress. In Karnataka it is the BJP, JD(S) and the Congress. In AP, it is the Congress, TDP and the TRS (and only now Jagan’s party). In Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP it is a straight Congress/BJP fight. In Punjab, it is SAD, BJP and Congress. In WB, it is the Left, TMC and the Congress. It’s only really in Bihar that a multicornered contest exists between the JD (U), BJP, RJD and Congress though the Congress is a very small party. Does it mean that a similar strategy could be adopted in Bihar? But it’s definitely not surprising then why the Peace party has taken roots in UP…..

The real truth is Ayyub’s ascendancy in UP makes for interesting political conspiracy story. It is stories like these which make the coverage of politics so interesting! Whether the BJP will gain from this or not time will surely tell…..Whether Ayyub is a partner of the BJP we may never come to know.

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