April 20, 2016

India: The political atmosphere & coming assembly elections in UP - an interview with Ramesh Dixit

The Asian Age

‘There is cynicism in the air... And rejection too’

The UP elections are still a few months away but the political pot is already on the boil. Parties are positioning themselves on the shifting sands of vote bank loyalty. They are unsure of the way the wind will finally blow.
The April sun in Lucknow is unusually hot but there is also a stifling stillness in the air — almost reflective of the political atmosphere here.
Elections in UP are still a few months away but the political pot is already on the boil. Parties are positioning themselves on the shifting sands of vote bank loyalty. They are unsure of the way the wind will finally blow.
Dr Ramesh Dixit, a veteran political analyst and former head of the Political Science Department in the Lucknow University, has been travelling across the state and shares his view on the present political landscape. Excerpts from the interview to Amita Verma:
We are still some months from the elections. What, according to you, is the political scenario in Uttar Pradesh?
Voters in UP arerestless and even indignant. They are sure of the parties they want to reject but undecided about the ones they want to accept. Never before in my long career, have I seen this degree of cynicism in politics. In UP, we have seen casteism and communalism dominate politics for almost two and a half decades but now I am seeing people desperate to strike a saner note this time. There is still time so churning of thoughts is on but the voters— especially, the young ones-firmly want a party that adopts middle- of- the-road policy.
How do you view the mood among Muslims?
For decades, I have seen Muslim voters complaining about what they have not got and how they are being discriminated by political parties. This time, there is a strong sense of insecurity, fear and apprehension in the community. It is almost as if they are terrified of the unknown. The events in UP in the past two or three years that include the Muzaffarnagar riots and the Dadri lynching is responsible for this mood. The Muslims have finally realised that it is time to shun extremism of any sort because they know that any such action will invite a stronger reaction. This awareness, thankfully, can be seen even among the uneducated elements in the community. Today, security and sanity is the only thing that Muslims want”.
How will the Muzaffarnagar riots influence the elections in the state?
It is the Muzaffarnagar riots that have brought a sense of alienation among Muslims, particularly in western UP. Surprisingly, Muslims have now realized that polarization needs to be toned down because they know that they need the support of the Hindu majority to survive in peace. The elders and the youth in the community seem determined to reject extremism in both communities. All they want is a safe and secure future for the young generations. The Owaisis and Sakshis will not help them get a secure future and the Muslims know this.
In fact, the softening of stand by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on the issue of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ goes to prove that probably the RSS has also realised that religious extremism will only alienate them from secular Hindus who definitely outnumber the core Hindutva element.
But the BJP is heavily banking on the Hindutva factor to form their government in UP?
The psyche of the Indian mind is the middle path. Neither Hindus, nor Muslims like rabble rousers though some of them do get caught up in the vortex at times. Two and a half decades of intense communalism in Uttar Pradesh has not brought jobs for the youth-whether it is Hindus or Muslims-and the young ones want a future for themselves. The Ram temple and Babri demolition was an emotive issue at one point of time for both the communities but even Hindus do not respond to it the way BJP would like them to.
Is there a sense of disillusionment among Muslims with the Akhilesh government?
Yes, of course, there is because they expected the Samajwadi Party to protect them during Muzaffarnagar riots but the government failed. Then the subsequent Vishnu Sahay report on the riots that went on to blame no one for what happened in 2013, added insult to the injury. But Muslims, as of now, have no option because there is no other party that can be trusted to fight against communal forces. There is scepticism regarding the Samajwadis too because their leaders have been flirting with the BJP leadership on occasions more than one.
How do you rate the performance of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav?
I look at him as the proverbial ‘’Abhimanyu’who is caught in a ‘Chakravyuh’. He is a well intentioned young man who is a victim of circumstances. He has done well on the development front but he may not actually get the advantage of this because the bureaucracy and his party workers have failed to take his message down the line. The chief minister has failed to curb the lawlessness of his party workers and the corruption of the bureaucracy and this is adding to the anti-incumbency factor. He has diminished his own authority by allowing multiple power centres to thrive. He still has a few months to go and can set things right to an extent.
Do you see any hope for the Congress this time in UP?
Interestingly, these elections could bring good news for the Congress, provided the party plays its cards well. For the first time in the past several years, I am actually hearing people talk about the Congress. In the coffee houses, on the roadside and even at small get-togethers, people are discussing the Congress and the need for a ‘Congress-like party’ to emerge. But there can be a change of scone only if the Congress positions itself well in the coming months and presents itself as a viable alternative which, at the moment, seems a tough task.
What should be the Congress strategy for revival?
The only silver lining for the Congress is that political strategist Prashant Kishore, who has been entrusted the task of the party’s campaign for UP, has told Congress men to ‘forget SP and BSP’ and target only the BJP. This is the perfect strategy for the Congress. It should shed the tag of being a stooge of regional parties and step up its attack on the BJP if it wants Muslims to gravitate towards it.
And what about the Bahujan Samaj Party? A recent poll survey has shown that it is leading in UP.
The BSP, according to me, is not yet on a sure footing. In western UP, it was the Muslim-Jatav combination that catapulted the BSP to power. The Muzaffarnagar riots demolished this and divided the two groups on communal lines. Muslims still are unable to trust the BSP which has formed government with the BJP thrice in UP. Moreover, the BSP has disappointed its core vote bank by giving importance to other castes that are socially not compatible with Dalits and hence the slogan, “vote hamara, note tumhara nahin chalega”. This also reflects the political awareness and social empowerment of a community that has been suppressed for decades.