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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 state.

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 to watch.

EARLIER REPORTS:

Court order forces BJP to don a new avatar
Seven Lessons From Ayodhya
Top BJP leaders to face trial in Ayodhya case
Fear of Mulayam's proxy rule forces BSP to relent
Brahmin-OBC war may spell disaster for BJP
BJP-BSP meet on Sunday to end UP crisis
Mayawati-Kalyan Singh conflict plunges UP into deeper crisis
BJP sharply divided over BSP's demand
UP, Babri force BJP to think of polls
Mayawati offers to take up speaker's issue with BSP chief
'I will accomplish the task of six years in six months'
Mayawati, sworn in UPís 24th CM, promises the usual clean-up
Will the BJP-BSP alliance last in UP?

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