Mulayam keeps Congress on tenterhooks

Smita Gupta
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For UPA government, support of 21 MP-strong SP is crucial

Mulayam Singh Yadav
Mulayam Singh Yadav

Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh’s recent public praise of BJP veteran L.K. Advani, followed closely by his comment on the likelihood of a third front government after the next general elections, are being read very closely by the Congress. For, it is the 21 MP-strong SP that can make the difference now between the UPA retaining its majority — or being reduced to a minority — after the DMK made its dramatic exit from the central government last week.

The Trinamool Congress, of course, did give some indication that it may step into the breach, if required, but the Congress — inured to its whimsical eastern on again-off again partner — is not counting on backing from that quarter, especially as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would like elections to be held sooner rather than later.

On Monday, amid continuing speculation that the SP was looking for an opportunity to pull the plug, Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi, answering a question on the growing closeness between Mr. Singh and the BJP, began by saying that as the SP “is supporting our government,” “we would not like to comment” on the SP leader’s statement.

Having said that, he pointed out that as “Godhra and Ahmedabad incidents had happened during the NDA’s tenure,” and Mr. Advani had been named in the Babri Masjid demolition case, the Congress could not share the SP’s admiration of the BJP and its leadership. But if SP leaders were appreciative of these incidents, then these were “their own views.”

Mr. Alvi concluded his remarks by saying that “the Congress believes that the BJP is a communal party and we are against communalism.” Mr. Alvi’s message was clearly to the minority community — did they want to vote for a party playing footsie with the BJP?

With the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh under pressure, and the SP reportedly losing ground daily to its principal rival in the State, the BSP, sources in the SP said the party would like general elections to be held as soon as possible. But the SP does not want to be in a position where it withdraws support and the UPA government continues to flourish, with the help of some other party like the Trinamool. It would then give the BSP, which is also backing the Congress, a double advantage.

Hence the verbal pas de deux between the Congress and the SP, as they circle each other, watching every move made, every statement uttered.

In Congress circles, the SP’s praise of the BJP’s leadership is being interpreted privately not as an endorsement of the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat or the demolition of the Babri Masjid, but as reaching out to a major party whose help it may require , either to pull down the UPA government now or be on friendly terms with the BJP in case that party fares well after the next general elections, and it needs help to stave off investigations by the CBI.

A senior Congress functionary said, “Mulayam Singh needs to keep the BJP in good humour. His statements have been made by design not by chance. He needs to balance his need for Muslim support with keeping the CBI at bay.”

But, obviously, the Congress wants to choose the time of the next elections: for the moment, it would like it to be held in time next year. .

Currently, the numbers are stacked thus: without the DMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, the UPA total is 224. With the support of the SP (22), the BSP (21) and 24 other MPs, nine of whom are independents, the total is 291 in a House that currently has 540 members — there are four vacancies. The government currently requires 271 to continue, so it has a margin of 20. The SP’s 21 MPs are, therefore, critical.



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