II. UP's Gathbandhan Nama: Why and how SP-BSP created a 25-year-long divorce
There is a fascinating history to the extraordinary political reunification of the SP-BSP in UP. The merger has alarmed the BJP. But its base continues to be uneasy.
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Mandal and Bahujan came together for the first time in 1993 as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fought together.
Launched formally as SP just about a year ago, unlike BSP, Mulayam’s party was not even listed with the Election Commission (EC) as a state party. In the EC records, it was merely a registered, but unrecognised entity, fighting its first election.
The Patriarch: Mulayam Singh Yadav founded the Samajwadi Party in October 1992. (Source: PTI)
The two won 176 — one seat short of the BJP tally. But to keep BJP out, the Congress, Left parties and the Janata Dal threw their weight behind Mulayam Yadav — who became CM for the second time.
They managed to deny the BJP a return to power. But it was always a restless alliance, a coming together of two different social awakenings, at times conflicting, both led by leaders who were terribly ambitious, new to power and less bound by political etiquettes of past. Both sitting together — both plotting to find ways to trump the other.
Kanshi Ram was interested in expanding his party base while the BSP shared power with the SP. His protégé, school-teacher-turned politician, firebrand Dalit activist Mayawati, was impatient. Her rise in the party was meteoric and by the time the SP-BSP alliance was a few months old, she was dictating the political moves.
The BSP didn’t let Mulayam Yadav spend a single day without signalling that he was chief minister surviving on the support of BSP MLAs. The BSP could never stop looking over its shoulder fearing that ‘wily’ Mulayam may engineer defections of its MLAs by offering ministerial berths and other inducements. Leaders on both sides would regularly do things to humiliate the other, publicly sending a signal to their cadres and voters that they had the upper hand in the alliance
In March 1994, the Kanshi-Mulayam duo was scheduled to address a joint public meeting to celebrate the alliance’s win in Allahabad. Mulayam reached the Circuit House from where the two were supposed to travel together to the rally ground. Kanshi Ram made the CM wait for almost an hour before he agreed to meet him.
The same month, Mayawati reportedly made a ‘shoddy’ remark against the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi. Mulayam faced nationwide outrage. Kanshi Ram refused to meet him for almost three weeks to sort out the matter.
Still in the discourse: Mayawati's alleged comment against Mahatma Gandhi drew wide criticism. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
By June 1994, the alliance government was seven-odd months old — and the trust deficit was loud and visible. With Kanshi Ram making Mulayam face the working end of the proverbial numerical gun, the wrestler CM started a serious number crunching exercise in the first week of June.
The SP had 127 MLAs in a house of 425 and the support of 32 Congress (I) MLAs, six of Janata Dal, three from the Left Front and seven of the 10 independent MLAs. Without the BSP's support, his government was 38 MLAs short of the required bare majority figure of 213.
He turned to the 13-year-old associate of Kanshi Ram in the BSP, Masood Ahmed. The education minister in his cabinet was won over and apparently asked to start the poaching exercise. Masood soon reported to Mulayam that he had tied up with 44 of the 70 BSP MLAs on whom the SP could depend if the BSP withdrew support.
The news of an impending split in the BSP was making daily headlines in Lucknow newspapers. Incensed on July 9, Kanshi Ram rushed to Lucknow and held a press conference. Here he told the scribes that he was extremely unhappy over what Masood was claiming and had called an anti-defection rally on July 10 to protest against the attempts to split his party. Chief minister Yadav was on his way back to Mumbai that evening — on landing, he heard about Kanshi Ram’s ‘threat’. Instead of heading home, he rushed to the state guest house where Kanshi Ram was camping. He was closeted with the BSP chief for nearly two hours.
Mulayam returned to his house and did two things. Kanshi Ram had given him a deadline. Rewati Raman Singh, an old associate of Mulayam, had told me that night, “Kanshi Ram has told Netaji bluntly you will not remain chief minister without BSP support. It’s 8.30 PM. By 11 PM today, throw Masood Ahmed and his belongings out of the ministerial bunglow.”
When asked, “Is Mulayam going to do it?”, Singh replied, “He has no option.”
By 11 PM that night, Masood Ahmed, who was leading a significant group of dissident BSP MLAs for Mulayam against Mayawati, had vacated the official bungalow.
Mulayam had swallowed his pride. Chosen compromise over confrontation.
But Kanshi Ram didn’t call off the anti-defection rally. He could still pull the plug.
So, the second thing Mulayam did after returning home was to ask all district officials to ensure that every SP MLA reaches Lucknow by July 11 morning for an emergency legislature party meeting.
Next day, at the ‘dal-badal’ rally, Kanshi Ram held out a newspaper, reading out headlines, about how he forced Mulayam Yadav, the CM, to evict education minister Masood Ahmed from his house for plotting to split BSP. He pointed towards the MLAs who were on Masood’s ready-to-jump-ship list and wryly said, Masood, the ‘jhoota musalman’, was lying. “See, all of the 44 MLAs are sitting here,” he said.
Kanshi Ram went on, “When I asked Mulayam to remove Masood, he suggested a change in portfolio. I told him no. Mulayam admitted his men were not plotting to split my party but the attempt was only to sideline Mayawati.” He narrated to the attentively listening crowd how Mulayam Yadav lost his gamble, how he, the BSP leader, had the CM and his government on its knees.
BSP supporters who came for the rally in Lucknow had one question on their lips that day — will Kanshi Ram announce the end of the alliance?
But the BSP supremo chose discretion over drama. In an anti-climax at the rally, Kanshi Ram spoke of everything but withdrawing support. He told his supporters, "Go back to your homes and strengthen Mulayam Singh's hands to defeat the intentions of Brahminical forces.”
Within the next few days came another blow to Mulayam during the UP Vidhan Parishad or legislative council elections. Mulayam’s party lost a crucial seat as the BSP refused to cast its votes in favour of the SP candidate.
The 1994 Vidhan Parishad polls in UP were another blow to Mulayam Singh Yadav, courtesy BSP. (Source: PTI)
Ambika Chowdhry, a founding member of the SP, one day before the Legislative Council seat loss in 1994, had quipped during a conversation, “I think we should thank the BJP. The SP-BSP are staying together only because of the fear that the BJP may return to power.”
But the façade was slipping. Late in July, when I had a chance to speak to Mulayam to ask “what next,” he said, “It is up to them and their policies.”
He had explained, “I will do everything possible to send out a signal that I tried to keep a coalition. The blame for the fall of a government should land at someone else’s door.”
The same year, during a few by-polls, Kanshi Ram refused to campaign for three seats from where SP had fielded its candidates — Mulayam swallowed the snub and campaigned for the three BSP candidates.
Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav had a rather tumultous working relationship. (Source: Twitter)
In August, Mulayam changed the location of his party’s state-level Samaj Banao (Build Society) rally from Barabanki, 30 kms away from Lucknow, to a remote village 40 km away from the town. This was yet another signal from Mulayam that to stay in power, he needed the BSP — and for him appeasement was the better part of valour.
Mulayam had asked his leaders to change the venue as a large crowd near Lucknow would be interpreted as a counter show of strength by him to Kanshi Ram’s thinly attended anti-defection rally.
Kanshi Ram pushed Mulayam to drop and pick bureaucrats he disliked or liked. The BSP apparently even targeted the then-state chief secretary TSR Subramanian, a fine officer, who later superannuated as the Union cabinet secretary. He was accused of running a pro-Brahmin administration (Subramanian was a Tamil Brahmin).
The top SP leadership was miffed with Mulayam’s submissive attitude — anger was seething due to the BSP’s arm-twisting tactics. They feared that succumbing to pressure from the junior partner in the alliance was causing irreparable harm to the SP's and Mulayam's image.
Mulayam stayed glued to the chair and deaf to the murmurs of discontent. But I, like most who had followed him for some time, knew he was working on a Plan B.
Over the next few months, he started a nationwide outreach.
He found an ally in NT Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). He toured 10 states going to polls. He raised the frequency of his meetings with the Congress leadership in Delhi and even PM Narasimha Rao.
By May 1995, the SP and BSP were like a married couple living together with bitterness preparing for an acrimonious divorce. Two political developments in the last few months had virtually terrorised Kanshi Ram into plotting the demise of Mulayam's government. The first one was the brazen manner in which Mulayam led his party in the panchayat elections in the state. BSP leaders had claimed that the SP supremo used the state machinery and muscle to win 31 out of 56 zilla panchayat chairmanships — the BSP was completely edged out.
In May 1995's by-election, Mulayam had proven his mettle by winning three of the four seats, despite the BSP virtually sabotaging its alliance partner, proving its lack of dependence when it came to electoral battles.
The wins made the BSP and even the BJP sit up. The Lok Sabha polls were less than 10 months away and Mulayam seemed to be gaining strength.
The BJP in March 1994 had won Gujarat and Maharashtra. It turned attention towards Uttar Pradesh. It wanted to set things right in India’s most crucial state which first brought the party to the national limelight. Interestingly, in its last three national executive meetings, the BJP agenda clearly flagged the need to tap Dalit vote banks across the country.
In fact, at its conclave at Virar in April 1995, the BJP had projected itself as the true inheritor of the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and BR Ambedkar.
That’s when the BJP started sending feelers to Kanshi Ram. Kanshi Ram, according to BJP sources, drove a tough bargain for precipitating a showdown with Mulayam and walk out of the alliance. Way back in 2006, RK Chowdhry, an upcoming BSP leader in the 1990s, had said, “Kanshi Ram had one clear demand. If he dumps Mulayam, the BJP had to elevate Mayawati as chief minister. The lone condition was non-negotiable.”
The BJP weighed its options. The Kanshi Ram formula offered an opportunity to utilise the BSP to weaken Mulayam and build a short cut to determining the Dalit vote bank.
Also, the BJP spin doctors sensed that this was a chance to shed the party’s traditional Brahmin-Thakur-Bania party image. An alliance with the BSP could serve to legitimise the BJP's attempt to co-opt Ambedkar into the party pantheon.
The BJP then had 177 members in the house. It was negotiating with the 10 independents — seven of whom supported Mulayam.
The Guest House ‘Kaand’
Forty-eight hours before the infamous incident that drove a wedge between the SP-BSP and took 24 years to undo, were momentous for every political player especially Mayawati. On June 1, 1995, Kanshi Ram was admitted to a Delhi hospital recovering from a brain clot removal treatment. Mayawati had visited her political mentor.
A senior BSP leader had tipped me off that during the visit Kanshi Ram had a surprise in store for her. The leader had said, “Kanshi Ram, according to those who were at the hospital, asked Mayawati, ‘How would you like to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh?”
Kanshi Ram reportedly asked Mayawati to take over as UP chief minister when he was admitted in a Delhi hospital. (Source: India Today)
Kanshi Ram is said to have revealed that he had struck a deal with the BJP — and the saffron party was ready to back her after BSP breaks the alliance with the SP.
In Lucknow, on the same day Mulayam was in his office on the fifth floor of the ‘sachivalaya’ (secretariat building), meeting SP heads of all districts, one of his favourite bureaucrats, PL Punia, now a Congress Rajya Sabha MP, walked in without knocking on the door. Punia is said to have whispered something in Mulayam’s ear and slipped a note in his hand. Mulayam, according to two leaders who were present, was visibly rattled. Punia left and after a brief phone call, Mulayam turned to the SP leaders and said, “Chunav ki tayyari karo (prepare for polls).”
He didn’t tell them why but they understood that Kanshi Ram was going to deliver on his threat of withdrawing support.
The meeting ended and Mulayam left for his home where he summoned all the top leaders. The meeting lasted two hours. It is said that the plan to bring out the BSP fence-sitter MLAs and keep them ready for a parade before the state governor was made during the meeting.
Meanwhile, Mayawati was back in Lucknow and on June 2 the coup against Mulayam was ready to unfold. Mayawati was at Lucknow’s Meera Bai guest house, barely 2 kms from the state Assembly and a km from the state DGP camp office, with BSP MLAs finalising strategy. After one round of meeting, she went inside the Suite No 1 of the guest house apparently to hold some secret parleys with trusted BSP men.
Suddenly, a huge commotion was heard outside.
Some leaders who were sitting in the common room of the guest house rushed out to check. They returned scared shouting “SP gundon ne hamla kar diya hai (SP goons are attacking)”. BSP men shut the main gate of the guest house but it was broken down. Within seconds, nearly 300 men — armed with ‘lathis’ and guns (as claimed by BSP leaders) — entered the guest house. BSP MLAs were beaten, physically lifted and dumped in jeeps waiting outside. The vehicles drove off with nearly five BSP MLAs.
Inside, Mayawati was allegedly roughed up by the goons. Some trusted men managed to lock the door of the suite. Outside, SP men were abusing and trying to break down the door. Inside a terrified Mayawati is said to have made desperate calls to BJP leaders and Union home minister SB Chavan.
The situation was precarious.
The scene of the 'Guesthouse incident' which shook the politics of Uttar Pradesh. (Source: PTI)
Kanshi Ram, the BSP’s dominant force, was in a Delhi hospital, and Mulayam, facing collapse of his government, was in power in UP.
Soon, electricity and telephone lines at the guest house were snapped.
It was an operation executed by the SP, evident from the fact that party leaders like Ramakant Yadav, Rakesh Sachan, Munawwar Choudhry, Ambika Choudhry, Mehboob Ali and Anna Shukla, a ‘bahubali’ close to Mulayam, were reportedly present outside the guest house. It was dark and the SP goons were unrelenting. Locked inside the suite, Mayawati feared the worst as a large posse of policemen standing outside did little. Help for Mayawati came in the form of two inspectors of UP police — Vijay Bhushan, the then-SHO of Hazratgaj Kotwali and Subhash Singh Baghel, who was SHO (VIP duty). They formed a barrier between the door to the suite and the mob baying for Mayawati’s blood.
BJP’s Farrukhabad MLA Brahm Dutt Dwivedi, who was in favour of a BSP-BJP tie up, was staying in the same guest house. He arrived and challenged the goons.
It’s sheer coincidence that the then-Lucknow superintendent of police, OP Singh, who was accused of not reacting to the attack by SP men, is the current DGP of Uttar Pradesh.
In virtual captivity in the hot, stuffy suite No. 1 of the state guest house, Mayawati stayed inside as SP workers outside screamed abuses and threats.
The volatile drama went on till the Lucknow district magistrate stepped in. The lines between Delhi and Lucknow were buzzing. Then-UP governor Motilal Vora, sent a ‘law and order breakdown’ report to the PV Narasimha Rao government, which accepted the recommendation for imposition of President’s rule and sacked Mulayam’s government on June 3 without offering him a chance to prove his numbers.
In Delhi, the BJP moved fast. Top leaders Atal Bihar Vajpayee, LK Advani and others took a prompt decision that the time has come. State leaders like Lalji Tandon were dispatched to stay with Mayawati. With a large posse of policemen ensuring security, Mayawati stepped out and was taken to Raj Bhawan to stake claim to form a government backed by the BJP and Janata Dal.
Within 24 hours of the attack by SP goons, Mayawati was sworn in as the first Dalit chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Her tormentor, Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the morning of June 3 rushed to the governor, paraded MLAs, including the BSP rebels. Since Parliament was in session in Delhi and the sense of the house against what had happened in Lucknow, Prime Minister Rao used the outrage as a political opportunity to trim down Mulayam who had hurt the Congress. In Delhi, Narasimha Rao commented on Mayawati’s rise by calling it “a miracle of democracy”.
PV Narasimha Rao called Mayawati a 'miracle of democracy'. (Source: PTI)
A case was registered to probe the attack on Mayawati and BSP MLAs. At one time, SP leaders Arun Shankar Shukla alias Anna, Pradeep Bajaj, Vir Abhimanyu, Waliullah Javed and Altaf Ahmad legislators, Ramakant Yadav, Umakant Yadav, Vishram Yadav and Mahesh Nath Mahindra were the key accused.
It’s a miracle of democracy that Mulayam, whom Mayawati alleged masterminded the guest house attack, is her ally now.
Mayawati was seeking votes for Anna Shukla, now the gathabandhan candidate from Unnao lok sabha seat. Ramakant Yadav had joined BSP and was elected MP in 2004.
Mayawati at the Mainpuri rally said she has forgotten the guest house incident and indicated that acrimony of the past is forgotten.
She expects her voters to join her in erasing that memory.