The Congress and the Samajwadi Party are natural rivals forced into an unnatural relationship by their respective political compulsions. This explains the SP leadership’s volatile and frequent mood changes with respect to the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance. Mulayam Singh and other SP leaders have become painfully formulaic in their reactions to the Congress: attack the party, take the quarrel to a level where a parting of ways seems imminent, but at the critical moment somehow find an excuse not to execute the threats. There is no longer any surprise or suspense over how a spat between the two parties will end, and the charade looks like playing out in one more case — that of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, whose suspension by the Akhilesh Yadav government has triggered a national uproar. The SP blew a fuse when Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging that the officer not be “treated unfairly.” What must have riled the SP is that the Congress president’s letter was not written for form’s sake or merely to appear to be doing justice. Far from it, Ms Gandhi not only made it clear she did not buy the SP’s story, she robustly endorsed the commonly accepted view that the officer was in fact vindictively suspended for standing up to the sand mining mafia in western Uttar Pradesh.
With the SP expectedly livid, the stage was set for another round of bitter verbal warfare and retaliation. Mr. Mulayam Singh justified the action against Ms Nagpal and the State government proceeded to charge-sheet her even as the party made headlines with its announcement that it will oppose the Food Security Bill awaiting passage in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. There are multiple reasons why the SP is unlikely to go the full hog. It can press amendments to the Bill — failing which stage a walkout — but it cannot afford to be seen as voting against a welfare measure for the poor. The party is aware that the Congress is in a position to find other supporters for the Bill. And finally, given the SP’s precarious situation in U.P., the party will be wise not to precipitate a crisis with the potential to lead to an early general election. The SP has to attack the Congress because of their shared pursuit of the Muslim constituency, which is perceived to have become more amenable to shepherding with the arrival of Narendra Modi as the face of the BJP. So when the Congress takes up for an officer like Ms Nagpal, it becomes the perfect opportunity for the SP to showcase its allegedly pro-Muslim credentials. The SP will of course calibrate its moves to suit its own partisan interests. But tragically for Muslims, they are more harmed than helped by these brinkmanship games.