Sometimes, your most valuable friend is no more than your enemy’s enemy. For the beleaguered Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, the fresh commitment of support from Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh on Friday is a lifeline in the nick of time. Mr. Singh’s support is conditional: he is as opposed to Foreign Direct Investment in retail as is Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, whose withdrawal from the UPA created the present crisis for the government. But his political compulsions could see him propping up the government till 2014, when the next Lok Sabha election is due. Under pressure from his constituency of Muslims to deny the Bharatiya Janata Party even an inch of additional political space, Mr. Singh is often forced to speed into the open arms of the Congress. The Congress is an enemy of the SP but not bigger than the BJP, which must be stopped at all costs from gaining in the event of a mid-term poll. For all the SP’s stupendous performance in the February assembly election in U.P., the simple truth is that the Akhilesh Yadav government needs time to consolidate itself. If the SP is to go to the people in a general election, it would surely need to show results in U.P. A key factor here is Central assistance, which has already been promised to the State. In the event, Mr. Singh’s rationalisation of his decision to continue to support the UPA was predictable: to keep “communal forces” (read the BJP) at bay. Whether or not the Congress counted on the SP’s support while pushing Ms Banerjee over the brink is difficult to say but, surely, party managers were aware of the predicament of Mr. Singh: of having to keep one eye on the BJP while taking on the Congress.

All the talk of a Third Front will thus have to necessarily wait till 2014. A day after holding hands with leaders of the Left parties in support of the Bharat bandh against the hike in diesel price, the cap on the number of domestic LPG cylinders, and the reform measures of the UPA government, Mr. Singh thinks nothing of pronouncing support to the UPA. Honest about his prime ministerial ambitions, the SP leader is pragmatic too. While striving to increase his party’s leverage at the Centre, he would not do anything to bring down the Congress-led government unless he is sure of replacing it with a non-BJP government. Thus, the Congress-SP showdown is unlikely to happen before the next general election. Like partners in a marriage of convenience, the two parties cannot live with or without each other. After all, it is not love that holds them together, but the common hatred of a third party, the BJP.

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