A day after Mulayam Singh Yadav was given pride of place at the eighth anniversary celebrations of the United Progressive Alliance at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence, the after-effects were still being felt in the Congress and the Samajwadi Party, with both parties trying to minimise the significance of that episode.
Underscoring the fact that the SP has for some time been supporting the UPA from outside, its general secretary Ramgopal Yadav, responding to media speculation that the party decided to join the UPA government, said Tuesday's dinner diplomacy was no indication of any future commitment. “Mulayam has always attended these dinners. We were giving outside support [to the UPA] and we are still doing that. But we cannot comment on how long this will continue. Attending a dinner is not something wrong,” he said on Wednesday.
The Congress, too, downplayed the episode. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, dismissing the possibility of an increased role for the SP in the UPA as the Congress ties with the Trinamool Congress were strained, said, “Mamataji is fully with us. There is no question of any adjustment [problem].” Nothing more should be read into Mr. Yadav sitting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the release of UPA-II's report card, the Minister said. “He [Yadav] is a senior leader. We asked him to take a seat at a proper place, which he accepted. That is all.” Had Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati accepted the UPA's invitation, she, too, would have been offered a seat on the stage, Mr. Bansal added.
A Congress functionary, too, stressed that a relationship at the Centre would not in any way change the fact that the two parties would contest the next elections in Uttar Pradesh separately. The Congress at this moment, he said, needed to marshal all its forces for the Presidential polls, given the Trinamool's whimsical behaviour.
Competitors for the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress and the SP have shared an uneasy relationship for many years even though crucially both of them have been on the same side of the secular-communal divide, a commonality the two parties dipped into on Tuesday night. In the 2009 general elections, a seat-sharing arrangement in the State broke down on the eve of the polls. The Congress surprised everyone winning 22 Lok Sabha seats, neck and neck with the SP. One of the reasons for the Congress' stellar performance at the time was a massive shift in Muslim votes to the party, thanks in large measure to Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's playing footsie with Kalyan Singh, the original Hindutva icon, an act that saw the flight of a host of Muslim leaders from that party on the eve of those elections.
In the Assembly elections earlier this year, all that changed: Mr. Yadav severed his ties with Mr. Kalyan Singh and many of the Muslim leaders such as Mohammad Azam Khan who had abandoned him were back. The SP won a convincing majority on its own; the Congress won just 28 seats.
A senior Congress functionary had this to offer on the alacrity with which Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav associated himself with the UPA celebrations: “Muslims,” he said, “tend to vote differently in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections: while they may vote for the SP in State elections, in the general elections, they tend to go with the party that can defeat the BJP at the Centre. After the knock he took for joining hands with Kalyan Singh, he wanted to send a message to the Muslims of U.P. from Race Course Road: look, I'm helping the Congress.”