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The Samajwadi seesaw
Two days after his party decided to continue propping up the Manmohan Singh government, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was in attack mode again. The Congress is a party that cheats and does things only with an eye on winning elections, he fumed to SP workers in his native UP village of Saifai on Holi. "Don't fall for their tactics, " he warned.
Flip flop, flip flop. There is no one more restless in the political establishment today than Mulayam Singh. One day he roars, the next day he purrs. He warns of early elections and then backtracks almost immediately. He falls for Congress president Sonia Gandhi's charm, and then inexplicably heaps praise on BJP leader L K Advani.
In an already confused political scenario Mulayam Singh has only compounded the confusion with a series of contradictory statements. If they were to be taken at face value, it would seem he is readying to pull the plug. Yet, his own partymen insist that nothing could be further from the truth. Elections, they maintain, will be held on schedule, in 2014. "We know that we can't bring down the government even if we wanted to, " acknowledged an SP leader speaking on the condition of anonymity. "There are so many parties that will step forward to save the government because no-one wants an early election. "
It must be galling for a shrewd and proud anti-Congress Lohia-ite like Mulayam that the party he was taught to hold in contempt seems to have turned the tables on him. On the face of it, he holds all the trump cards with 23 SP MPs in the Lok Sabha providing the crucial numbers to help UPA 2 cross the majority mark. Yet, the irony is that if he plays the trumps, they will become worthless. And this is why. As long as he's with the government, he's an important ally and the main pillar of support for UPA 2. But if he pulls out, he becomes a zero. There are enough parties with roughly similar numbers waiting to take his place and keep the government afloat. And the Congress has worked overtime to woo these parties as insurance.
Those who know Mulayam say that his recent illogical behaviour is not a sign of either illness or age, as is commonly believed. It stems from acute frustration at his helplessness to alter the political landscape despite his stunning victory in the UP assembly polls last year. In fact, his inability to rock a government whose fate he supposedly holds in the palm of his hand is playing havoc with his politics in the state. As the supposed bedrock of the government, he had hoped to squeeze special benefits from the Centre for UP to consolidate his party's position in the runup to the Lok Sabha polls. But a year after son and chief minister Akhilesh submitted a bill of Rs 80, 000 crore to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the SP is yet to get an adequate response from New Delhi. In fact, whenever Mulayam barks, someone in the Congress flags the CBI cases against him and his family with suitable leaks in the media.
To add to his cup of woes is the romance that seems to be blossoming between the Congress and his chief rival in UP, Mayawati's BSP. The first indication came just before the winter session of Parliament when Mulayam and Mayawati met the PM over dinner separately. Mayawati emerged from the dinner with her face wreathed in smiles while Mulayam and Akhilesh strode out looking like thunderclouds. Later, SP sources admitted that the meeting did not go well at all with the PM failing to hold out any assurances on a financial package for UP.
As the days go by, Mulayam's dream is turning sour. He had hoped to coast to the PM's seat on the momentum generated by his sweep of the UP assembly. But that could have happened only if he could have forced an early general election. The way the numbers stack up in Parliament, he seems to have lost the initiative with the Congress cosying up to opponents like Nitish Kumar's JD (U) and even Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. And now it's too late. He cannot bring down the government on his own. He will have to forge an alliance with a host of other regional parties to get the numbers. Unfortunately, no regional satrap seems willing to play ball, not even Mamata who was burnt by her bitter experience with Mulayam's devious games during the presidential elections last year.
In the meantime, the ground is slipping from under the SP in UP. It is indeed odd that the biggest critic of Akhilesh's performance as chief minister is Mulayam himself with the father never failing to criticise his son for deteriorating law and order in the state. There are two problems. One is that after more than a dozen big communal riots and scores of small ones, the Muslim community, which is a vital voter bloc for the SP, is losing faith in the party it once considered its only protector. The second is the growing alienation of caste groups that had voted for the SP in 2012 to get rid of Mayawati's government. These groups, that include upper castes and the creamy layers of the OBCs, are turning away because of the manner in which Mulayam's Yadav clansmen are running riot in the villages and towns.
It is unfortunate for Mulayam that the Congress has stopped taking his threats seriously. Like the boy who cried wolf once too often, Mulayam is seen as someone who can only bark, not bite. But the SP chief is a fighter and he hasn't given up yet. This was evident from his address to his workers in Saifai on Holi where he reiterated his determination to become kingmaker in Delhi after the next elections. The SP, he urged, must do well because the Lok Sabha polls are the real elections. Significantly, he didn't set a timeline.
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