IF YOUĀ really want to look at the innards of Indian politics at its grungiest best, there is no better place than Uttar Pradesh and no better time to start than now. With elections to one of the largest state due next year, this is when realignment of political forces takes place. In back alleys and stuffy little rooms, manoeuvering space is being found for political hopefuls. This week, one such operation was underway in a tiny hospital room in Gorakhpur.
Stage centre: A man with no shirt, his leg in a cast, drip attached. Name: Mohammad Ayub. Age: 56. Founder-President of the Peace Party. Currently suffering from a serious fracture that his party is calling an āassassination attemptā by unknown political enemies who donāt want the Peace Party to succeed.
Stage left: Ayubās party workers are planning what they believe will be the arrival of a new dawn in UPās political land-scape: a party aimed at taking an arrow out of Mayawatiās quiver and firing it back. They say the Peace Party will be the new champion of the oppressed. It will principally take up the cause of the largest minority group in UP ā the Muslims. But that itās NOT an Islamic party. Poor Brahmins who feel used by the BJP are welcome. People from the Baniya community are in fact members and ticket-seekers.
The Peace Party has already contested and lost two byelections in UP and also put up candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. They are proud, they say, of the fact that in the short span of three years, they are already known as the āparty of vote cuttersā.
If this is baffling, the Peace Party is happy to explain. If your party is runner-up or third or fourth in a few seats, youāre inching your way up the political ladder and are ready for some seat trading. āWe give them our votes in some seats and they give us some in their seats, so both partiesā chances improve in the next election,ā explained a party leader in Varanasi.
This backroom arithmetic is not new. What is interesting is that a new party is trying to use an age-old trick. Plotting each seat across the caste and religious landscape of UP and seeing where it can maximise its chances. Then swooping in there, vulture-like, to prey on the discarded tissue of other parties and make something new of the pieces of collected discontent. So, one-third of the party consists of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and SP castaways ā politically ambitious people who donāt stand a chance of getting tickets from their existing parties and are fed up of waiting. Another third ā social castaways of all stripes ā poor Brahmins, unrepresented caste groups and backward castes; and of course, their big ticket ā Muslims.
āPut all MPs, MLAs and judges on narco tests and ask them what you like. That is my solution to corruption,ā says Ayub
The Peace Party, thanks to Ayubās thriving Rs 40 crore disposable syringe business, has stitched together a broad alliance with other, more prominent old-timers whoāve been pushed to the political margins in UP over time. People like Udit Raj, president of the Indian Justice Party who, in 2001, decided to try and unite Dalits through a mass conversion to Buddhism. Over the decade, however, he and others like him havenāt quite made it to centrestage. And thereās Mohammad Ansari of the Qaumi Ekta Dal. The Ansari brothers had deserted the SP not so long ago and then joined the BSP but were expelled from there too.
Also part of the alliance are prominent leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan and Ajit Singh. This alliance of eight parties plans to contest all 403 Assembly seats in the state next year and the Peace Party claims they will contest at least half those seats on their own. If elected, they have a few innovative ideas theyād like to put in place.
āMy main campaign issue is to fight for a corruption-free society,ā says an injured but determined Ayub.
The real idea, however, is in his method.