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28 January 2017 Editorial

 

28 January 2017

Mayawati’s risky calculus

After the shock of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when it got no seats in Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party has sought to forge a Dalit-Muslim alliance to revive its fortunes in the coming Assembly elections in the State. The party has fielded 98 Muslim candidates, the highest number for any party or alliance in the fray, and a clear departure from the grand social alliance (sarvajan hitay) with which it had swept the 2007 Assembly elections. The party would also be counting on its traditional pitch of ensuring law and order compared to its rivals. This is why the induction into the BSP of Mukhtar Ansari, an eastern U.P. strongman who faces serious criminal charges, along with his relatives, puts the spotlight on how the party chief, Ms. Mayawati, may be refining her strategy — and how her back-to-basics social alliance will square off against her party’s record of being tough on the law and order front. Mr. Ansari had been expelled from the BSP in 2010 for alleged criminal activities. His antecedents made news recently when he merged his political party, the Quami Ekta Dal, with the Samajwadi Party in October 2016. This had Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav rise in protest against his uncle Shivpal Yadav and use the development to project himself as a ‘clean’ politician.

For Ms. Mayawati, Mr. Ansari’s return to the BSP could help consolidate support from Muslims on the basis of identity, as she tries to secure her old vote banks. Dalits are 21% of the population in U.P. When it first came to power with a full majority in the Assembly in 2007, the BSP adopted a “sarva-samaj” rhetoric, assured of support from its Dalit base. But since then, Dalits have steadily moved away, notably to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the communally charged 2014 election, without any fresh accrual of support from other communities. Ms. Mayawati has realised over time that she has to appeal to her core support base among Dalits — which she has done over the past year after attacks on the community in different parts of the country sharpened the contradictions in the Sangh Parivar’s Dalit outreach. Reaching out to Muslims was the next logical step — they constitute 18% of the population in the State, and a Dalit-Muslim alliance is the BSP’s way of forging a winning strategy. Ms. Mayawati’s gamble of relying on narrow identity politics to counter her rivals is a risky one, and how the party’s appeal compares to the SP-Congress alliance’s is still an open question.

Getting ties with UAE on track

Even though the interpreter was missing at their joint appearance in Delhi’s Hyderabad House, there was no mistaking the rapport between the United Arab Emirates Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two leaders have met three times in the last 18 months, each meeting more full of warmth than the previous one. That the UAE Crown Prince, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Emirati armed forces, was invited as Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade, even though he is not a head of government or state, indicates the importance India invests in him and in ties with the Gulf country. India’s interest in the UAE rests on several pillars:

1.      trade ties of about $50 billion,

2.      energy and oil supplies from the world’s fifth largest exporter,

3.      the welfare of 2.6 million Indians who remit billions of dollars home annually, and

4.      defence and security.

While bilateral ties have been robust for decades, the defence and security partnership is clearly the new driver for ties between the two governments; the signing of the strategic partnership agreement was the highlight of the UAE leader’s visit. The contours of this partnership are now being set:

1.      joint military exercises,

2.      joint manufacturing and purchase of equipment and spare parts from India, as well as

3.      cooperation on fighting terror.

The joint statement also contained strong words on “state-sponsored terror”, that the government believes is an indication that the UAE shares India’s frustration on cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, especially in the wake of the bomb blast in Kandahar on January 10, in which five UAE officials were among the victims.

Strong words are no substitute for action, however, and the strategic partnership that India envisions with the UAE must be based on clarity and concrete measures. This should include a crackdown on the shadowy businesses owned by Dawood Ibrahim as well as more steps to curb terror financing of the Taliban and groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan; such money is often routed through expatriate remittances from the UAE. India’s hopes of investment from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, one of the world’s largest at $500 billion, will not be realised until New Delhi steps up efficiency at its end. That it took more than a year for the government to fully set up the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund mechanism for the UAE funds is a case in point. The delay resulted in the memorandum of understanding for investment of a possible $75 billion over 10 years falling through. Personalised leader-to-leader bilateral diplomacy is a great conversation-starter, but not sufficient to energise ties.

NIIF (National Infrastructure Investment Fund)

2011 data

 

 

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