Dalit-Muslim Alliance Congress Move may Backfire

SOROOR AHMED opines that Dalit-Muslim alliance would not yield Congress any fruit in Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam Singh is not considered a spent force as yet.

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SOROOR AHMED opines that Dalit-Muslim alliance would not yield Congress any fruit in Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam Singh is not considered a spent force as yet.

The Congress Party seems to be specialising in the art of barking up the wrong tree. It has not learnt any lesson from the horrendous political mistakes committed in the last couple of years. With assembly elections in several states, including Uttar Pradesh, round the corner it is throwing too many cards all at once.

First tears were shed by the ruling party over the backwardness of Muslims. Then came the view from the same source that the Dalits are worse off than Muslims. While addressing the Dalit-Minorities (read Muslims) International Conference in New Delhi on December 27, organised by his cabinet colleague Union steel minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, the Prime Minister called for change in mindset on minorities. However, he clarified that Sikhs and Jains, though also minuscule minorities, had done much better. The minorities affairs minister, Mr Abdur Rahman Antulay, while speaking in the same meet the following day assured that the Sachar Committee would be implemented in toto from 2007.

The meet was purportedly planned to bring the Dalits and Muslims on the common platform of Congress on the eve of the UP poll. And who can do this better than Ram Vilas Paswan.

With Sachar Committee report just out and Bahujan Samaj Party’s founder and arguably the tallest Dalit leader of national stature after B R Ambedkar, the irrepressible Kanshi Ram, no more the Congress, with the help of Lok Janshakti Party leader deemed it fit to fill the vacuum. But putting too much money on Ram Vilas Paswan repeatedly proved counterproductive for the Congress in the latter’s home turf, Bihar, where he once was a mass leader. How he will succeed in Uttar Pradesh, where he had never won any election, is anybody’s guess.

But the Congressmen or ‘women’ appear to have a very short memory. They have failed to realise that this move may not yield any result in the stronghold of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Besides, it would be preposterous on the part of the Congress to think that there exists vacuum in Dalit leadership in UP. Mayawati is very much there. The Congress think-tank wants to use Paswan card to blackmail and corner Bhenji, who is already facing the CBI probe. Mayawati too was interested in having truck with the Congress but on her own term as she never considered it a big force in UP.

The gamble with Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar not only led to the complete rout of Congress in Bihar but also ensured the defeat of secular and the most trusted partner, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in 2005 assembly election. Not only that even during the November by-election for Nalanda and Bhagalpur parliamentary seats the Congress with the Left decided to toe the line of the Lok Janshakti Party only to be humiliated. Their joint candidates lost their deposits. The Rashtriya Janata Dal might have lost those seats – which were won by the present chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, and his deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi in 2004 parliamentary election – but it managed to cut the victory margin of these two NDA stalwarts considerably. In Bhagalpur in particular Syed Shahnawaz Husain won by just 55,000 votes against Modi’s margin of 1,30,000. This in spite of the tall claim of the good governance by the NDA in Bihar. The Congress, the Left and Ram Vilas Paswan’s combined candidates could not manage to get the votes which Lalu Prasad’s party alone garnered in these two bypolls.

The Congress leaders are bent upon repeatedly committing political hara-kiri. In the assembly elections of Bihar last year – both in February and October – Ram Vilas Paswan repeatedly targeted Sonia Gandhi for Congress’ support to the Rabri Devi government in Bihar. In contrast Lalu stood strongly behind her. Still the Congress always threw its lot behind the steel minister.

As if that was not enough, Congress received another big blow. In the assembly by-election for Manihari seat the Congress lost the seat which it won in November 2005 assembly election. The seat was vacated after the death of sitting MLA, Mubarak Husain. The number of Congress legislator in Bihar now stands at eight in the House of 243.

Post-2005 assembly election the Lok Janshakti Party figured nowhere even in Bihar politics. Unlike in Uttar Pradesh where the Dalits stands solidly behind Mayawati the Harijan votes are divided among the RJD, CPI ML and Lok Janshakti Party. In Bihar the population of Dalits is about 15 per cent whereas in Uttar Pradesh 22 per cent. After the last year assembly election many Muslim office bearers of Lok Jan Shakti Party left the party accusing Paswan of facilitating the victory of the BJP-dominated NDA. Some of them even charged that his demand of having a Muslim chief minister was nothing but a ploy to divide the Muslim vote banks. Paswan ended up with just 12 per cent votes, which clearly suggested that not all the Dalits voted for him.

Playing the Paswan card in Uttar Pradesh or even Punjab, where too election is due and from where Kanshi Ram actually hailed may only backfire. The Dalit-Muslim alliance is a very noble idea, but Muslims of North India are always sceptical of both Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati.

One need not go back to the distant past. Only in 2002 when the Sangh Parivar was busy using Dalits and tribals of Gujarat against the Muslims, Mayawati was flirting with the BJP only to form the government with its alliance in Uttar Pradesh in May the same year. Ram Vilas Paswan throughout the bloodbath of Muslims enjoyed the ministerial privileges and perks and kept his lips tied. However, when he learnt that the BJP has opted to form government with Mayawati in UP he quit his post days before Mayawati became the chief minister. He thought that the Sangh Parivar does not need his service any more. It was just on the eve of the 2004 parliamentary elections that Paswan once again joined hands with Lalu Prasad and Congress. But once the election was over he turned his back towards the RJD leader. And during the campaign for the assembly elections in 2005 he repeatedly bluffed the people of Bihar by stating that he resigned from the Vajpayee cabinet in protest against the Gujarat riots.

With both Mayawati and Ram Vilas having joined hands with the BJP in the past the Congress should not have faced difficulty in selecting between the two Dalit leaders. Mayawati certainly is in much better position to influence the results both in UP and Punjab. Taking on Mulayam, who still enjoys the support of a sizeable number of Muslims of the state is not an easy task for the Congress-LJP alliance. The Congress is alarmed over the ‘resurgence’ of the BJP in the local bodies poll. But winning the Municipal Corporation election is easy in comparison to winning the assembly poll. Besides, corporation election only reflects the mood of the urban people and not the rural masses.

Mulayam, at times, showed softness towards the BJP. But to think that he is a spent force and that the Muslims have deserted him would amount to prematurely jumping the gun.

The Dalit-Muslim alliance faltered in Bihar last year and after that it is in tatter. How can the Congress leader imagine that the same formula will bring about any miracle in UP and that too with Ram Vilas at the helm of affairs?