For the Congress, Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma’s repeated broadsides against the Samajwadi Party are becoming increasingly “embarrassing,” senior party sources in Delhi admitted, while stressing that it was not for the SP to advise it on whether or not to drop him from the Cabinet.
This assertion came after SP general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha demanded Mr. Verma’s “immediate removal” from the government, now that the latter has publicly attacked party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav twice in a fortnight: on the first occasion he had called him a terrorist, forcing Congress president Sonia Gandhi to apologise to him; on Saturday, Mr. Verma claimed that the SP leader had conspired with VHP chief Ashok Singhal against the minorities in 1990.
Of course, when U.P. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was asked (in Allahabad) whether his party would exert pressure on the Congress to sack Mr Verma, he avoided a direct answer.
The vitriolic exchange between Mr. Verma and several senior SP leaders, senior Congress sources in Delhi underscored, were a manifestation of differences between the SP and the Union Steel Minister, not between the SP and the Congress. They said Mr. Verma had personal scores to settle with the SP — his son has been defeated twice — and he had also been hoping to move to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
For the Congress, maintaining this distinction is very important as it needs the backing of the 21 MP-strong SP in Parliament, now that the DMK has exited from the ruling UPA coalition.
Fortunately for the Congress, angered as the SP is over the personal attack launched by Mr. Verma, both Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav on Friday and Mr. Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday stressed the SP would continue to back the UPA “to keep communal forces at bay.” Asked if the SP might consider joining the BJP-led alliance, the young Chief Minister said, “SP is a secular party and in favour of a secular government.”
However, secular solidarity did not prevent Mr. Akhilesh Yadav from lambasting the Congress for using the CBI against its rivals. “But the SP does not fear any CBI enquiry,” he said, answering the BJP’s charge that the SP was backing the UPA.
On Saturday, Mr. Verma hit out at the SP, saying it would win only four Lok Sabha seats in 2014, and all in the vicinity of Etawah, the SP boss’ home district. The coming Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Verma prophesied, would “witness the funeral procession of the SP,” while the Congress would win 40, the BSP 26 and the BJP 10 seats.
If that claim was not enough, he accused Mr. Yadav — at a press conference in Lucknow — of hobnobbing with BJP and RSS leaders, and said he had deceived the minorities. Muddying the image of the SP leader as the “hero” of the Babri Masjid in 1990 — the year he was famously quoted as saying that not even a bird would be allowed to flutter its wings near the mosque — Mr. Verma alleged that Mr. Singhal was allowed into Ayodhya at a time when all entry was banned by the then Mulayam-headed government, of which he (Mr. Verma) was a Minister. Mr. Verma claimed that Mr. Yadav had not been interested in protecting the Babri Masjid, but creating a situation that would ensure the downfall of the V.P. Singh government at the Centre.
Interestingly, Mr. Verma did not spare his detractors in the Congress either. Asked about the Congress’ dismal performance in the 2012 Assembly elections, Mr. Verma said the party suffered on account of the move to grant 4.5 per cent reservation to Muslims and the debate on the Batla House encounter in Delhi – a reference to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh.