Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal stirs a hornet’s nest
Peaceful 5th phase, 49 seats in 13 districts go to poll; Lalitpur sets record with 72 per cent voter turnout
Virendra Nath Bhatt
As the fifth phase of the state Assembly elections went to vote on Thursday 23 February, Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal stirred a hornet’s nest by announcing that if the Congress failed to get a majority in Uttar Pradesh then there will be no option but to impose “President’s rule in the state”. Earlier this month the Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh had also issued a similar statement, which had drawn flak from the Opposition parties.
Following an attack by the Opposition, Jaiswal later claimed he was misquoted by the media. He said he had only explained the Constitutional position in case no party gets a clear majority in the Assembly. Notwithstanding the clarification, the damage appears to have been done as the Opposition has now found ammunition to use in campaigning for the next phase of the Assembly elections. Both Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have decided to raise the issue with the Election Commission (EC). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) called Jaiswal’s comment a sign of “Congress’ desperation”.
Senior SP leader and party spokesman Ram Gopal Yadav said, “The minister’s comments are an attempt of the Congress to influence voters amidst the polling process. It also shows the dictatorial instincts of the Congress. Dhamki se loktantra nahin chalta hai(democracy is not run by threats)”.
Speaking in Charkhari, from where she is contesting, BJP leader Uma Bharti called Jaiswal’s statement reflective of Congress’ “feudal mindset”. “They don’t believe in democracy and the people will give a befitting reply to the Congress,” she said. Uma told the gathering not to vote in favour of the Congress. “The party does not understand the importance of your votes,” she said.
Jaiswal had earlier kicked up a political controversy on 10 February with a comment in Kanpur. “Whoever becomes Chief Minister of UP will be remote-controlled by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi,” he had announced.
With the fifth phase of polling covering 275 seats and over just two phases remaining with 127 seats, the Congress is making an all out effort to score more seats in an attempt to emerge as an important player in post poll state politics. A senior Congress leader summed up the mood: “Rahul Gandhi has covered every nook and corner of the state in the past few years, do you think he is working so hard for installation of a SP government with our support?” According to the senior leader, such a move can be fatal for the Congress. “All our efforts for the Congress' revival in UP will then go down the drain,” he said.
“Some parties are desperate for an alliance with us, but the Congress will form the government on its own. If we lack the numbers then the only option will be the imposition of President’s rule in UP,” Jaiswal had said after casting his vote on Thursday morning in Kanpur.
He also said UP’s poll results will be “shocking” and the Congress will get a clear majority. Jaiswal claimed that significant part of the hike in 20 per cent voters turn out in state Assembly election has benefited the Congress. Asked if he was the Congress’ Chief Ministerial candidate, Jaiswal said he would “accept the challenge” if elected as leader by legislators.
Meanwhile, polling for the fifth phase covering 49 seats in 13 districts went off peacefully. The voter turnout is estimated to be 60 per cent. Lalitpur district in Bundelkhand region witnessed record 72 per cent turnout. Polls for the sixth and seventh phases will be conducted between 28 February and 3 March respectively and counting of votes will take place on March 6.
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
Editing by Karuna John