Fight to the finish

The survival of SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh could well depend on their ability to oust the UPA government

Special Correspondent Delhi

Last December when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav told the media that his confidante Amar Singh's phones were being tapped, no one realised the implications of these allegations and how much they could contribute in political realignment.

Amar Singh, displaying sound advise and indefatigable energy, traveled length and breadth of the country and garnered support from all those who were opposed to the Congress. For tactical reasons, he attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi and claimed that she was the one who had ordered surveillance against him. He successfully managed to capture a high moral ground by claiming that his privacy was being violated. This was in spite of the fact that he was rumoured to be engaging in conversations with the usual suspects (Yadav, Anil Ambani etc.) that showed him to be an amoral fixer. He was allegedly talking about girls, fixing judges and kickbacks from deals. Singh also sought intervention of the Supreme Court.

Singh garnered the support of the entire non-Congress opposition revealing the contours of a front that is being ramped up to upstage the government. Some of those who expressed solidarity with Amar Singh include the CPI and CPI (M), BJP, Telugu Desam party, Anna DMK and the Akali Dal. Put together, the number of MPs outstrip the ruling combination. This move was an attempt by the SP leadership to test the waters and take the opposition to the government to a new level.

The opportunity came when the government decided to vote against Iran's nuclear programme in the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA). Realising that they could ratchet up Muslim angst against the US on this issue, the SP threatened to bring in a no-confidence vote against the UPA for what it called ‘manifest departure’ from its foreign policy. SP leadership drew comfort from vocal opposition from Left parties and also from BJP chief Rajnath Singh, who claimed that the Congress was succumbing to US pressure on Iran. Suddenly, there were fears that a no-confidence vote, if it comes through before US President George W Bush's visit, could destablise the government. It was a disturbing scenario for the Manmohan Singh government.

Some damage control was evident when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made it clear that they were not in love with Iran and would not want another nuclear power in India's neighbourhood. A press conference was hurriedly organised in which former foreign minister Jaswant Singh made it clear that they were with the government on the Iran issue.

Although the immediate threat to the government was defused, anti-US sentiment was a potent glue for SP and its other supporters in the corporate sector to keep Manmohan Singh's government on the defensive before Bush’s visit.

SP wellwishers, such as Anil Ambani and Subroto Roy of Sahara, have been losing ground since the UPA came to power. The loss of the airport modernisation contract  rankled junior Ambani, who blamed the government for shifting the goal posts.

Next, this combine got yet another opportunity to whip up mass hysteria in Uttar Pradesh against the central government and the US on the issue of the Mohammad cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper. Large scale demonstrations were organised and one SP minister had the audacity to declare a  reward of Rs 51 crore on the head of the cartoonist. As official sources in Delhi point out that these demonstrations are not as spontaneous as they are made out to be and have had the backing of the SP-ruled UP government. The belief is that these factors could converge in building a massive demonstration against Bush and the central government's foreign policies as the US President arrives in Delhi.

The desperation of the UP government to keep the centre on the edge also stems from the fear that if they do not see the back of the Congress-led UPA, then their own government may fall. Also linked to this issue is the fear in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s mind that he could be hurt by the Supreme Court, which is seized with corruption cases against him.

This is a fight to the finish. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh realise that if they cannot oust this government soon enough their political careers could come to an end and what is worse, they could find themselves, along with some of their friends, in a legal mess.

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