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The Elephant is running on the expressway

By Ravish Kumar
Last updated on: May 05, 2009 06:44 IST
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Mayawati has pushed her Bahujan Samaj Party into the race for power in Delhi. The question is how many seats she will win that will help her get the Third Front's support to back her as prime minister.

In Mayawati's journey from Lucknow to Delhi, she has taken all kinds of people along with her, who want us to believe that the BSP is taking a big leap forward. Mayawati has left behind even her mentor Kanshi Ram in her social engineering experiments.

Deepak Bhardwaj, the BSP candidate from West Delhi, is a new entrant into the party. He proudly says that all these years he was in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad helping the VHP in its nationwide movement to protect cows. Bhardwaj claims to be an Arya Samaji.

Arya Samaj followers do not believe in religious rituals, caste, creed etc. It is obvious and understandable that when a political party like the BSP opens up, all kinds of people will jump in. Bhardwaj even declares that the ideologies of the BSP and Arya Samaj are the same!

Bhardwaj is not in the news for his views on any profound subject, he is in the news because he is worth Rs 600 crores (Rs 6 billion). One wonders at the changes that have taken place inside the BSP when one looks at the photo frames of Kanshi Ram and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar inside Bhardwaj's drawing room. You can't be sure how much an individial associated with the VHP will adopt the BSP's ideology.

Amarpal Sharma, the BSP candidate from Ghaziabad, didn't venture out to file his nomination till the stars took their destined positions to favour him. Of course, one is aware that the BSP can't surge ahead with its original philosophy.

Parties do encounter a turning point when they are compelled to shed their thinking for a while.

We know that the Bharatiya Janata Party did so to form the National Demcratic Alliance, the Congress did it, and even Vishwanath Pratap Singh did it to take the support of both the saffron and Left parties, way back in 1989. It is now the BSP's turn to change its colours. The party is in the process of forming alliances while fighting the largest number of seats in India.

In this journey, people who haven't contributed even a penny to the BSP's kitty have joined in. If you add the gross assets of just some of the BSP's crorepati candidates, then the figure crosses Rs 5,000 crores (Rs 50 billion). The turnover of the companies of D S Kulkarni, the BSP candidate from Pune, is over Rs 1,800 crore (Rs 18 billion).

Malook Nagar, the BSP candidate from Meerut, owns a dairy products empire while Surendra Sinh Nagar, the BSP candidate from Gautam Buddha Nagar, is the owner of the Paras milk brand worth Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion).

The common factor among these BSP candidates is both of them live in posh areas in Delhi. Surendra Sinh Nagar lives in New Friends Colony, one of the poshest residential colonies of New Delhi, while Malook Nagar lives in Vasant Vihar, a classical colony of old money and has claimed that his home in Vasant Vihar is worth only Rs 1.25 crores (Rs 12.5 million).

Kanwar Sinh Tanwar, the BSP candidate from South Delhi, owns a farmhouse in Chattarpur. His decked-up Audi is worth Rs 80 lakhs (Rs 8 million). So, in short, the BSP, the party of poor Dalits, has started getting candidates from those areas where the so-called wealthy live, whose night-long parties Mayawati has invariably ridiculed.

Now, these same neighbourhoods are filled with sounds of Jai Ho, Mayawati. It is not for nothing that Surendra Nagar said that Mayawati is a bigger brand than Paras milk.

To make sense of this change we should look at it from both perspectives. The Nagars are the New Rich, who have not made the transition to the sophisticated upper class yet. The business of procuring, bottling and distributing milk is intimately connected to the heartland.

Tanwar may reside in a fancy farmhouse, but his land and projects are on the dusty and rough outskirts of New Delhi. He runs charities and distributes free medicines, so he has goodwill among the people. Since he is rich he was useful to parties like the BJP and Congress as well.

What the BSP did was a smart thing. It offered partnership to the rich. In the BJP and Congress the New Rich were merely known as 'party supporters.'

This is a big change. And, this has changed the face of the BSP. Industrialists are given a warm welcome here. They move in openly with their Audis, Prados and Land Cruisers and openly flaunt their wealth.

Is the BSP gaining anything out of this? One assumes that if any of these moneybags win the election then their VHP background or their weaknesses will not count or may not be questioned, but if they lose then the BSP will have to rethink its idea of broadening its social base by the inclusion of sarvajan (everyone).

How long can you keep up social engineering without the maturing of basic thought? The BSP prides itself on the loyalty and commitment of its poor workers, but can you depend as much on the New Rich? Are they faithful?

Mayawati wants numbers. She has ruled Lucknow four times, now she is raring to rule the country. Her elephant is running on the express highway, there is no scope to apply the brakes now, that's why she is forced to call Mukhtar Ansari the messiah of the poor.

The BSP is growing and in the party some people are becoming bigger than the BSP.

Ravish Kumar, an award-winning journalist, is a features editor at NDTV-India

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Ravish Kumar