ELECTION 2014: HALT THE VICIOUS CYCLE

Pollsters are painting a bleak scenario for the Samajwadi Party’s fortunes in the Lok Sabha elections, owing to an inept government

Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow 

For the untrained ears, comprehending Mulayam Singh Yadav’s speech is not really easy. People who mimic his style of speaking have formed a veritable industry. But even that does not make the task of deciphering his speech any easier. Still, his legion of followers is not unaware of what he wants this time: 60 seats and a shot at the Prime Minister’s job.

He has laid bare his ambition to win the majority of the 80 odd seats from the state and drive the amorphous Third Front to power, and himself to the PM chair.

No one really believes him though. In the streets of Lucknow and elsewhere, any suggestions of netaji winning a significant number of seats from the state invites undiluted ridicule. A detractor rubbished his claims mirthfully by saying that the Samajwadi Party (SP) would win as many seats as a Toyota Innova – seven.

Unfazed by the Cassandras, Mulayam Singh Yadav is in battle mode, trying to reclaim his traditional base of Yadavs and Muslims. All these years that he has been fighting elections, he has managed to win 20 odd percent of votes. In the last parliament elections, he won 23 seats and this time around he wanted to build on the massive victory during the assembly elections that brought the SP to power in 2012. But that win seems so long ago.  

Mulayam, whose performance in UP will decide the fortunes of the Third or United Front, knows the importance of winning more seats. So zealous is he about fighting all the seats that he is not willing to leave a single seat for the Left parties that are trying to bring all the non-Congress and non-BJP parties together. He is less than fair to senior Communist leaders like Atul Kumar Anjaan, who could win with SP support.

His reservations about leaving a seat for CPI, flies in the face of the fact that SP is always keen to leave a seat for the Gandhi family, to keep them in good humour. Mulayam may not field candidates against Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareili and Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. The SP leader had explained this practice by pointing out that the Congress, too, had not put up a candidate against his son Akhilesh Yadav.

Despite his attempt to fix seats, it is not going to be easy for the SP this time around. It realizes that it cannot win big  till he gets the resounding support of Muslims, that are 17 percent of the population. In  2009, the SP tally came down to 23 seats, when Muslims conveyed their displeasure with Mulayam for cozying up to Kalyan Singh, who was the BJP chief minister when  Babri Masjid was brought down. Realising his mistake, he promptly dumped Singh.  

But circumstances in 2014 are wildly different. After the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, his support amongst the Muslims is dwindling. Not only did that infuse new life into communal politics, it even helped the BJP to stage a dramatic comeback. His government’s ineptness stands in contrast to the aggressive rant of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who promises to provide quality governance. People are flocking to his rallies and lapping up the criticism of Yadav and how poorly he has delivered on promise. Modi’s promise of making UP another Gujarat with 24/7 power goes down well with people who barely get a few hours of electricity. There are suggestions that the BJP under Modi could win anywhere between 30 and 40 seats.

The SP has announced a number of candidates, but they have been warned of replacement if they do not campaign properly. Like always, the party is identified with the goondaism of its legislators and in an environment where issues of probity in public life are of great importance, neither he nor his candidates pass muster with the angry middle class.

Cunningly, he has tried to distance himself from his son Akhilesh Yadav’s government by saying that the people should not punish him for its poor performance. The truth is that Akhilesh just does not get the freedom to run his government, weighed down as he is by his father and politically powerful uncles.

As that is not happening, people of the state are being made to feel angry and short-changed by the aggressive campaigning of Narendra Modi. Progress in other states provides them the context of understanding what has gone wrong with them. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party due to the middle class revulsion towards corruption and absence of accountability of its leaders is also striking a favourable chord with the angry masses.

Hard pressed, Mulayam Singh Yadav is banking on his backward base and the ability of his government to give out sops. Significantly enough, the state cabinet approved the Samajwadi Pension Scheme for 40 lakh families in the state. One out of every 10 persons in the state would be a beneficiary of this scheme. According to this scheme Rs 500 per month would be given to each family and it would be increased by Rs 50 per month every year for five years, provided the set guidelines were properly followed. After five years the pension would become Rs 750 per month.  Azam  Khan, minister in SP government, has also said that his party would take up the issue of reservation for Muslims in Parliament. This is unlikely to wash with the minorities, who cannot fathom why they were dumped and left defenceless in Muzaffarnagar. Some of the statements of Mulayam Singh Yadav further enraged them. There are still two months before the polls and SP leaders will hope that they are able to convince their supporters to repose faith in them. Going by the reports, this is not going to be easy this time.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2014