Faced with the peculiar problem of “facelessness in Uttar Pradesh”, it may not be surprising if the services of Kalyan Singh – who adorns the Governor’s chair as an octogenarian at Jaipur – are requisitioned sooner rather than later by the BJP's powers, to act as the head of the party’s state election campaign committee.
The BJP now needs as never before a credible, well-known face that can match the charismatic influence of a Mulayam Singh Yadav or a Mayawati. And who else can fill up the blank better than the 'good, old war-horse' who had, apart from being the state chief minister twice, been the face of the saffron brigade’s social engineering in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement during the closing years of 1980s and all through 1990s?
Indeed, there are three additional reasons why the party’s central leadership is reported to have zeroed in on the old war-horse:
First, being from a “backward” caste himself, Kalyan Singh is perceived to be quite capable of making an effective dent into Mulayam Singh Yadav’s otherwise impregnable backward vote bank in the caste-conscious state of Uttar Pradesh. He had managed to do this effectively in 1991, when BJP rode to power for the first time on its own strength – winning 221 of the total 425 Assembly seats in UP.
Second, Kalyan Singh is known for his ultra-right wing Hindu credentials. The Hindutva poster-boy of yesteryears had never been shy of owning full responsibility for the demolition of the Babri Mosque. In fact, he considers it to be a matter of pride that his government was dismissed by the Narasimha Rao establishment at the Centre on the day the Mosque was pulled down by karsevaks in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992.
In the days prior to the demolition, he had told the then union home minister that he would not let his police force fire upon the karsevaks, come what may, unlike what Mulayam Singh had done about two years ago.
He seems to cherish yet another landmark in his long, turbulent political career. The Supreme Court of India had, in a contempt case, given him punishment (imprisonment for a day) for his failure to protect the Mosque despite making repeated promises before the judges.
Third, the BJP doesn’t have a single leader at its command who can effectively make an impact electorally even in one of the five regions of the state – Eastern UP, Awadh belt, Ruhelkhand, Western UP and Bundelkhand.
The current state party chief, Keshav Prasad Maurya, is a little known political entity. Past party stalwarts including Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra appear to be losing relevance in state politics. Kalyan Singh is perhaps the only name that can create excitement among both friends and foes alike, polarizing politics at the pan-UP level.
The BJP knows for certain that unless the state stands polarized on religious lines, it would lose the fight in this crucial state even before it begins next year. What is even more significant in this context is that the Mulayam-Akhilesh duo of the Samajwadi Party banks equally on a religiously polarized situation in the state, for the sake of survival of its Muslim-Yadav vote bank.
Did you notice the new turn given to the Dadri lynching incident by the state police earlier this week? Yes, eight months after 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death in Dadri, following allegations of cow slaughter and beef consumption, the police which had described the meat as mutton in September last year has now told the court that it was, in fact, beef. Queer? The UP police chief, Javed Ahmad, was unruffled when he told a national news channel, “Initially, we did say it was mutton but subsequently we were told by the laboratory that it was beef.”
It may be recalled that the Dadri incident had triggered a nationwide debate over intolerance last year. Even letting bygones be bygones, what rankles the observers’ minds at the present juncture is a simple question: How on earth can the same meat become mutton before the Bihar elections and then turn into beef before the ensuing UP polls?
Another incident that points to fears of peace getting disturbed in this election bound state has been reported from Shamli, where local BJP leaders have threatened to hold a mahapanchayat over the failure of the police to withdraw cases against the relatives of a murdered woman. The allegation of the BJP leaders is that the police is trying to frame the victim’s kin in order to help two Muslim men, who have been arrested in connection with the case.
If Kalyan Singh does not come to lead the BJP’s election campaign in UP, anybody from an otherwise long list of probables for chief ministership – Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Varun Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath, Mahesh Sharma and Sunil Bansal — might be projected as the party’s face in the run up to the 2017 Assembly polls. But one thing is clear: we all need to stay alert all the time. The atmosphere is getting quite vitiated. Already.