Mulayam's Minefield

The coming months are going to be exceedingly important for Mulayam Singh Yadav’s political future. He will not like to make a wrong move which can possibly hurt his fortunes or those of his son

Hardnews Bureau Lucknow/ Delhi

After the unexpected landslide victory last year in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav did not display the glow of a winner. After settling the issue of who would be the chief minister of the state in favour of his amiable son, Akhilesh, the veteran ‘socialist’ leader had other issues to contend with. Hence, when a senior politician went to congratulate Mulayam, he brushed his greetings aside and in turn began to discuss with him the Supreme Court (SC)-supervised Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into his disproportionate assets.

It was apparent that coming to power in Lucknow was just one of the many objectives that he hoped to achieve; the larger issue was how to protect himself and his family from a probe that could hurt his politics and personal life rather grievously.

Understandably, most of the political moves of the past few months and years have been determined by his desire to shield himself from the SC-supervised CBI probe into his assets, allegedly acquired through corrupt practices. Sources believe that the raid conducted on DMK leader MK Stalin’s house, a day after the party withdrew support from the government, was meant to convey a tangential message to Mulayam that he should not try anything adventurous. Mulayam, seemingly, is weighing his options.

All these years that the Congress led UPA has been in power, Mulayam has seen merit in being on the right side of the central government to ensure that no harm comes to him. Expectedly, he has been steadfast in supporting the UPA government despite being kept out of the UPA by the Congress in 2004, even when he had won 39 seats. During the 2012 UPA celebrations, he even clambered up to the dais to be with the UPA leadership despite not being part of the ruling regime.

Despite being ideologically opposed to the Congress government’s fondness for the US on certain key political issues, he chose to vote in favour of the civilian nuclear deal with the US in the 2008 confidence vote while ditching his old ally, the Left. He has also bailed out the government whenever it has been confronted by a crisis. Mulayam supported the UPA presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, after causing some anxiety to the government.

However, his recent pronouncements about the need to form a third front as well as his anger over abusive comments made by his former friend and now a Congress minister, Beni Prasad Verma, indicate that he may be looking at other options as the term of the UPA comes to an end. His son, Akhilesh, too, has said that SP, whose support is critical for UPA to prove its majority after the withdrawal of support by the DMK over the Sri Lanka issue, would decide when to pull the plug on the government.

From the standpoint of the Congress, Mulayam’s belligerence has ominous portents for the survival of the government. If his party sources are to be believed, he could show his hand during the budgetary debate when Parliament reconvenes in April. As the UPA gets weaker, Mulayam seems to be getting stronger.

His supporters believe that the CBI case, based on a complaint by a Congress leader, has no merit. It is only meant to keep him in check and manipulate him. A former CBI director wanted to close the probe as he thought there was insufficient evidence to seal his conviction, but he was disallowed. What riles many of his supporters is that the probe is open-ended and there are no deadlines by which it has to be completed. The uncomfortable truth is that there will always be a sword hanging over him till something dramatic happens with his politics.

Mulayam is, indeed, waiting for that dramatic moment that can liberate him from his problems. His supporters believe that in a fractured political environment he can be the country’s prime minister if he can win 60 seats from UP. At the time when the SP came to power again in 2012 in UP, there were insiders who believed these tall claims; but there are very few within the party who realistically believe in the SP’s ability to win so many seats. “Everyday the SP is losing votes and seats,” claimed a Lucknow-based political observer.

Law and order in the state has collapsed and the rule of the mafia and goons is on the rise, something predictable and inevitable during all SP regimes. The police feels vulnerable and finds it difficult to protect the force from powerful caste-based criminal gangs. Common people have begun to feel nostalgic about BSP leader Mayawati’s reign when crooks and goons were dispatched to jails or kept in check.

Also, there has been a spike in communal riots in different parts of the state. Low-intensity communal violence has also been stalking various polarized zones. It has been raging for a while, but neither the chief minister nor his father had the time to visit these areas. Communal riots have a way of polarizing votes along communal lines and it does not take great common sense to understand that these riots might help the BJP. These happenings have given credence to a long-held view that the rise of the BJP is linked in some ways with the SP’s ascension to power. Maybe it has something to do with his conscious minorityism and caste-based politics.

This time around, too, rumours abound in UP about the favours the SP government is extending to the minority community. Even the job given to the widow of the slain DSP in Kunda is being criticized by the elements who point out that the widows of other police officers who died in the line of duty were not compensated as they belonged to the majority community.

Such wild and insidious rumours are setting the caste and communal cauldron of UP on the boil. Mulayam is desperate to win more than 40 seats in UP. But his objectives can be thwarted if his government continues to provide poor-quality governance. He has demanded from his son, Akhilesh, that he should do better than what he is doing and also praised LK Advani as a leader who told the truth about the state.

There are two inferences that can be drawn from his recent remarks: First, he may not be averse to becoming the chief minister himself. And second, he does not want the BJP to grow in UP at his expense. He is troubled by reports that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is trying to relocate to UP to lend greater momentum to the BJP’s efforts to win big numbers to return to power. Mulayam thinks that, if he works on the contradictions within the BJP over Modi, then he could stall the latter’s ambitions.

The coming months are going to be exceedingly important for Mulayam’s political future. He will not like to make a wrong move which can possibly hurt his fortunes or those of his son. Clearly, he is treading with extra caution and slowly finding his feet in a virtual minefield called UP.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2013