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CENTRE IN DOCK

A knotty affair

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VEILED SUPPORT: Both Mayawati and Mulayam don't want to be seen supporting the Congress on FDI in multi-brand retail and fuel price hike

While early general elections will suit Mulayam, Mayawati needs time to rebuild her party organisation. But both leaders cannot afford to pull the plug on the Centre.

The rivalry between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party is turning out to be a blessing in disguise for the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. After Mamata Banerjee's withdrawal of support, the central government will be in danger only if both SP and BSP decide not to bail it out. On the other hand, the fear of losing the secular tag and ongoing CBI probes against Mulayam and Mayawati mean that both leaders cannot afford to not support the Congress.

While the SP's actions seem to be guided by the prime ministerial ambitions of Mulayam Singh Yadav, for BSP's Mayawati, the most crucial task is to regain lost ground in Uttar Pradesh. Both do not want to be seen supporting the Congress in allowing FDI in multi-brand retail and fuel price rise, but at the same time want to avoid anything that could prove to be of political advantage to the other.

The SP came to power in UP six months ago. The party feels that an early Lok Sabha election would help it win maximum number of seats. In fact, SP insiders say December-January would be the perfect time for the party to go in for Lok Sabha polls because by that time its government would have fulfilled some of its poll promises while anti-incumbency would be less severe compared to what it could a year from now. They also believe that increasing public anger against the UPA due to price rise and corruption would offset whatever little anti-incumbency has crept in against their own government. Third, UPA 2 has not done anything substantial for Muslims, who will play a crucial role in the polls. "With the impression gaining ground that the Congress will lose, Muslims would chose the SP to lead a third front which can stop the NDA from coming to power, " says a leader.

Muslims voted overwhelmingly for SP in the assembly polls earlier this year. Mulayam has already promised to implement those recommendations of the Sachar Committee that come under the state government's jurisdiction. Besides Muslims, the SP also believes it would get the support of upper castes because it blocked the constitutional amendment bill providing reservation in promotion in government organisations.

Political observers point out that the biggest problem for Mulayam is that he alone cannot pull down the government. Mayawati, with her 21 MPs, can replace Mamata's 19 MPs in UPA 2. In such a situation, Mulayam's options are limited. He does not want to take the blame of pulling down UPA 2 and helping the BJP in the process. He also wants to keep the Congress and other parties, barring the BJP, in good humour for support in return in case he gets an opportunity to lead the Third Front after the general elections. He can also settle down with a deal - a special package for UP and a partial roll back of fuel prices. Regarding FDI in retail, the SP government has the option not to implement it in the state.

Mayawati needs time to rebuild the party organisation. It will suit the BSP to let anti-incumbency mount and take its toll on the SP before facing voters again. Though Mayawati also demanded a rollback of the fuel price hike and FDI in multi-brand retail, she kept away from the September 20 nation-wide bandh.

Mayawati's major concern as of now is to regain the confidence of her dalit vote bank, which showed signs of a crack in the recent assembly polls. Of a total of 84 reserved assembly constituencies, the BSP won only 17 and the SP 54. It is why she is desperately pressing for a constitutional amendment on quota in promotions. She may make support to UPA 2 conditional to the passage of the amendment bill in Parliament, say political observers.

The BSP also needs time to make a dent in the SP's Muslim vote bank. Party leaders say that six communal riots in the state in the first six months of SP rule have started the process of Muslim disenchantment with Mulayam.

Apart from political compulsions, Mulayam and Mayawati have also been compelled to support the UPA in the past due to the corruption cases filed against them by the CBI. While the disproportionate assets (DA) case against Mulayam is still sub-judice, the Supreme Court recently gave relief to Mayawati in a DA case against her. But the CBI has the option to file a review petition.

Mayawati feels that if she withdraws support, the SP may rescue UPA and then force the Centre to revive the DA case, says a BSP leader. The SP may also mount pressure on the Centre to make CBI register a case against her in the Rs 5700-crore health scam that allegedly took place under her watch. Conversely, SP leaders believe that if BSP supports the UPA, it can mount pressure on the Centre to defer the special development package for UP which the Akhilesh Yadav government needs to fulfill its poll promises.

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