FAIZABAD, Uttar Pradesh -- Party hopping is the "new normal" in Uttar Pradesh, with politicians jumping ship to further their careers. Locals quip about the "revolving door" policy of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, the two regional parties of U.P. which represent the "secular" ideology.
Then, there are politicians who hop between parties irrespective of the party ideology. Take, for instance, Bharatiya Janata Party's lawmaker from Kaiserganj, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who started out with BJP in 1991 and then joined the SP before returning to the BJP. The Modi wave, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, led to quite a scramble. Jagdambika Pal, the former U.P. state president of the Congress Party, went over to the BJP on the eve of the polls. Rita Bahuguna Joshi, another Congress president in U.P., recently made the jump to the BJP.
But it is Ved Prakash Gupta, BJP's candidate from Ayodhya for the upcoming polls, who has the distinction of being with all the four mainstream parties (Congress, BJP, BSP, and SP) during the past 30 years or so.
This reporter met Gupta over the weekend in Faizabad, and asked him how had he reconciled the ideological differences of four parties. Gupta, after all, had thrown himself into the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. How then could he have joined any of the "secular" regional parties that lean on Muslim votes?
"Ideology is important, but sometimes circumstances take over. You don't always dictate. Sometimes life dictates you," he said. "BSP and SP are regional parties and the state has stayed backward under their rule. They have encouraged casteism. My heart and spirit have always been with the BJP."
Ideology is important, but sometimes circumstances take over.
It was a busy weekend for Gupta. Not only was he engrossed in door-to-door campaigning, the BJP candidate inaugurated the building which would serve as the party election headquarters in the district. A crowd of well wishers and party workers gathered for the event. There was hot coffee and laddoos to go around. While everyone waited, a calf urinated in front of the new building.
Gupta, tall and distinguished, is also a leader of the baniya (trading) community. With his shawl thrown over his shoulder and a serene smile on his face, he walked around, laughing and shaking hands with people in the gathering. He wore the same smile while talking to this reporter about his journey from one party to another. "Why are you so interested in this subject?" he asked. "You see, my ultimate goal has been to serve Ayodhya."
Keen on politics, Gupta joined the Congress Party in the mid-eighties to learn the ropes. It was still a few years for Ram Advani's rath-yatra to usher in the BJP, which brought Gupta to the forefront of the agitation against the Babri Masjid.
Gupta's association with the BJP lasted fourteen years, but this did not bring him the standing and influence he aspired to. And so, he joined the SP and finally got a ticket to contest from Ayodhya in the 2002 Assembly election. "You would have seen the wave in Mulayam Singhji's favour, what does that tell you?" he said at the time. "People are fed up with the BJP."
On Sunday, Gupta told this reporter, "There is a Modi wave. The people have rejected the SP."
Gupta lost the 2002 election on the SP ticket. In 2012, he contested the same seat for the BSP and lost.
On his coming back to BJP, Gupta reflected, "I guess you could call this my gharwapsi (returning home)". His brother Chandra Prakash Gupta is more blunt: "There is nothing like ideology in politics. All ideologies are the same. And people who have politics in their blood, are always restless. They must fight the election," he said.
I guess you could call this my gharwapsi.
Political parties these days were as different as "Coke and Pepsi," said Ashutosh Misra, professor of political science at Lucknow University. "There is no difference left between a mass based party, a cadre based leader and a leader based party," he said. "There is no difference between an ideology based and an interest based party."
The BJP has won the Ayodhya seat in every Assembly election since 1991, losing only in 2012 to the SP. Given BJP's winning run in Ayodhya, Gupta, who has never won an election, is a surprising choice.
Local BJP workers dub Gupta as an "outsider". They are outraged that he was given the ticket to run from Ayodhya. Last week, they carried out a protest, using ropes to tie up the district president, Awadhesh Pandey Badal.
Badal too struggled to explain why Gupta was chosen. "It was decided by the higher ups so they must have seen some wisdom in it. People are hurt, some more than others. But they will have to recover," he said.
There is nothing like ideology in politics. All ideologies are the same.
While Gupta may have returned to the BJP, things are different today compared to the time of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Gupta recalled that he was on the "front lines" in 1992, but he prefers not to dwell on it. Weighing his words carefully, the politician in Gupta echoes the party line about the Ram Temple being a question of sentiment. "But my focus is on development," he said, while describing in great detail the situation of the potholes and sewage in Ayodhya.
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