In UP, keep your eyes on the Peace Party


Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh have consistently taken divergent stands on the Batla House police encounter. Chidambaram says the issue cannot be re opened because it was a proper encounter in which lives were lost including that of a policeman. The Prime Minister supports the Home Minister’s stand in the name of national security.

Digvijay Singh maintains it was a “fake” encounter. In other words, it was a deliberate attack on Muslim youth who had come from Azamgarh and were registered at the Jamia Millia University. Is this why Digvijay Singh raised the Batla House issue in Azamgarh where Rahul Gandhi was campaigning?

The Muslim has always been in focus in North India either as a potential voter or a foil against which Hindu consolidation can be attempted.

Hindu consolidation was a ploy (as during Mandir-Masjid) when BJP was a rising power. In days when Hindutva wore the “Shakti” mantle, Muslims, in search of security sought shelter in the Congress verandah. But after Babari Masjid the verandah came crumbling down and Muslim ran helter skelter even supporting caste formations.

Currently, disgusted with caste formations too, the Muslim is re-evaluating his strategy. “Muslims will vote tactically” goes the refrain among tired Lucknow analysts. This means they will vote for anyone who can defeat the BJP candidate. This line of thinking pre supposes there is something like a muscular BJP around to scare the minority. Such a BJP does not exist any longer.

The absence of BJP as ogre is a new electoral problem for the Congress grown accustomed to the minorities quaking with fright come election time.

A possible way out of the jam is to create conditions of tension by constantly harping on issues which would soften the Muslim vote. Batla House is one such.

But all this sophistry is obsolete because what has emerged through six decades of trial and error is a Muslim vote in UP extremely suspicious.

That is why the Digvijay Singh – P. Chidambaram point-counterpoint is having a resonance among a large number of Muslim voters which is totally at variance from my earlier analysis. I thought Digvijay Singh would be quite the darling of the minority voters. That is not the case, among Muslims who are abandoning the Congress for a rapidly growing outfit called the Peace Party. The party has positioned itself not as a Muslim party but with Muslims, among others, in leadership positions.

The formula resembles the BSP’s approach tailored by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. The BSP structure is built on Dalit as the base vote. Give seats to all the communities and on polling day transfer Dalit votes to augment the BSP candidate’s vote share.

The leader of the Peace Party is a bright medical doctor Mohammad Ayub. He has latched onto the theory of the Muslim “base” vote which, according to official estimates is 18.5 per cent. Dr. Ayub believes the percentage is higher – say, 22 percent.

Dr. Ayub has deftly steered clear of the easy temptation to create a Muslim party. His Peace Party has Brahmins, Thakurs, the most backward groups like Khatiks, Valmiki, Dasi and so on. There are six Peace Party members in the present UP assembly of whom three are thakurs and three most backwards.

In its step by step approach, the Peace Party has adopted the politics of horizontal growth, a gradual enlargement of the vote share. In this fashion, rival parties are denied space and the Peace Party then make slow vertical growth, a sort of “appam” effect.

It is not possessed by unrealistic ambition. “We will certainly get 25 to 35 seats”, says Dr. Ayub. There is likely to be such a multiplicity of parties in the fray that “no government can be formed without our support”. The searing ambition is to be in the government – “any government with any combination even the BJP”. Power is what the Peace Party is aiming at! Since the Peace Party seeks to balance various Hindu interests with Muslims in the lead, communal harmony is high priority.

This, precisely is the reason that in the PC – Digvijay Singh stand-off, Muslims in the Peace Party find Chidambaram’s approach more helpful. “In Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and all such incidents” Chidambaram is quietly proceeding against the Hindutva forces.

Digvijay Singh’s heart is in the right place, but by raising the decibel level on these issues he ends up “provoking the forces” the Peace Party would rather have in deep slumber.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)