It’s hard for any party to lose the moral high ground in the debate on corruption to Mayawati and to the Congress, given the extent of their venality. But it appears that the BJP is doing everything in its power to lose it.
A virtual cold war has broken out in the BJP over the decision of its leaders in Uttar Pradesh to induct former BSP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, who had been dismissed by Mayawati on charges of corruption, into the party. The BJP’s central leadership is working overtime to deflect the flak it is receiving from its cadres onto the state-level leaders who were too caught up in caste calculations and short-sighted grassroots-level one-upmanship politics to fully understand the damage that Kushwaha’s induction inflicts to the BJP’s efforts to corner Maywati and the Congress on the issue of corruption.
A whisper campaign is currently under way in the hope of distancing central leaders like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley – and even state-level leaders in Uttar Pradesh like Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra – from the decision.
According to this narrative, state-level leaders like Vinay Katiyar and Surya Pratap Shahi were to blame for this move, and persuaded BJP president Nitin Gadkari to endorse it without consulting the other senior leaders.
In the estimation of BJP MLAs in Uttar Pradesh, for the party to take in former ministers who were considered too corrupt even for Mayawati is intensely damaging. By highlighting the presence in its ranks of the most sordid faces associated with Mayawati’s tenure in office, it burdens the BJP with the millstone of “anti-incumbency” without offering sufficient compensation on the caste calculus front.
The Times of India reports that the episode has dampened saffron spirits in Lucknow. “It is quite a fall from the moral high (ground that) the BJP enjoyed during (the) Anna agitation,” a party MLA said. He recalled how, until a month ago, the state leadership had only one winning strategy: “cashing in on the… anti-corruption (movement led by Anna Hazare). Taking in the most tainted of Maya’s ministers… has crashed the party’s prospect this time,” he said.
Ironically, the BJP had been planning to file a public interest petition in the Allahabad High Court to seek an investigation, monitored by the court, into allegations of corruption against Mayawati and BSP party leaders.
The fact that Kushwaha was inducted ostensibly to shore up the BJP’s support base among the Mostckward Classes by the selfsame leaders who had sabotaged Uma Bharti’s political fortunes is feeding cynicism.
In the reckoning of some analysts, Kushwaha is likely to lose the BJP many more seats than he will help it win.
The episode has had the improbable effect of giving the Congress, which is itself on the defensive over the megascams under its watch, a handle to target the BJP on the issue of corruption. Congress megaphones went into overdrive on Wednesday. Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said that the BJP had become a “nesting ground” for the corruption – and that Advani, who undertook a rath yatra against corruption, should account for his party’s action.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh too leveraged the BJP’s action to target his bugbear, Anna Hazare. He noted that a BSP minister who was being investigated by the CBI on corruption charges had joined the BJP. “Any coments, Anna?” he taunted.
Pushed on the defensive, the BJP is now looking to project Kushwaha’s induction as a master strategy to use him as a “whistleblower” who knew the inner workings of the Mayawati government. That narrative isn’t gaining traction, going by the efforts by central leaders to disassociate themselves from the decision to induct him.
Even in a hopelessly muddled election scenario in Uttar Pradesh, given the many factors that influence likely outcomes, this much can be said with certainty: the BJP has achieved the near-impossible task of yielding the high ground on the issue of corruption to Mayawati and to the Congress.