Kalyan Singh won't have it easy this time
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
Had it not been for Kalyan Singh,
the Bahujan Samaj Party would perhaps have succeeded in scoring points over the Bharatiya Janata Party in this month's ugly war of nerves. The BSP wanted
the UP assembly speaker replaced by its nominee.
But that was not to be. Singh, the BJP vice-president, made it clear to his party leadership
that he would not concede the BSP's demand, even if meant
foregoing the chief minister's office.
That was what compelled the otherwise unrelenting BSP
to come to terms with the BJP and agree to hand over power to
Singh on Sunday, September 21. And having
emerged stronger from that battle, Singh is now set
to take over the reins in India's most populous
Such tenacity is a trademark of the 65-year-old Singh's political character.
With a reputation for candour,
the BJP's only backward caste leader of consequence
is someone not known to compromise easily.
Following the fall of the Janata Party government in 1980,
Singh was made general secretary of the state BJP and
elevated as its president four years later. In 1987, he was re-elected
as the party's state chief. His work in mobilising
the party rank and file brought him the leadership of the
state BJP Legislature Party in 1989.
An active champion of the Hindutva movement, Singh was closely
associated with the Ayodhya affair. And after the BJP rode
to power in Lucknow in 1991 -- after the sympathy wave that
followed the firing on kar sewaks in Ayodhya
in October-November 1990) --
Singh was named the state's chief minister.
A large number of UP bureaucrats credit him with running ''the cleanest administration in Lucknow
in recent years.'' His only weakness was the time he took to
take a decision. That left many priorities on his administrative
agenda incomplete, when his government was
dismissed after the Babri Masjid demolition
on December 6, 1992.
The courts hauled up many BJP leaders including Singh for
their alleged participation in the demolition conspiracy. Singh
faced conviction by way
of a day's imprisonment for 'violating the commitment
made to the Supreme Court for ensuring the safety and protection
of the mosque'. Nevertheless, he emerged the unlikely 'hero'
of the Ayodhya movement, particularly as he owned up all responsibility
for the events of December 6, which he termed the 'result
of pent-up passions of a suppressed Hindu community, on account
of prolonged dilly-dallying over the issue by successive governments
over the years.'
With last week's developments complicating matters for him, Singh has restrained himself from making any
more assertions about building the temple in Ayodhya. "The BJP
never said it would build the temple in Ayodhya," he toldRediff On The NeT last week. "But we are committed to removing
all hurdles in the way of the construction of the cherished temple.''
In the 1993 election, the BJP failed to muster a majority in the
425 member UP assembly. Yet it remained the single largest
party in the House,
with Singh named leader of the Opposition.
The party repeated its performance in the 1996 mid-term election.
But its failure to strike an alliance with another party,
led to the re-imposition of central rule in the state.
The BJP's flirtations with the BSP were initially opposed by Kalyan Singh. But five months later, when both the BJP and BSP could see their common political
adversary Mulayam Singh Yadav ruling the roost in Lucknow by proxy,
his party leadership prevailed upon Singh not to oppose an unusual power-sharing arrangement with the BSP.
Reluctantly, Singh went along. Now, after Mayawati's six months in office, it is his turn to be chief minister.
After quietly waiting these last six months, Singh is busy
preparing himself for the challenges that lie ahead. But it won't be
easy. With Mayawati and BSP leader Kanshi Ram certain to interfere
with the administration, a confrontation appears inevitable between the BSP and
the BJP's most obdurate leader. "It won't be smooth like his
first stint as chief minister,'' political observers say. How he negotiates
the political minefield will be interesting
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