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Why so mulayam?

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HT spins a shaggy dog tale about the Samajwadi Party’s support to the UPA government after Trinamool Congress pulled out:

It was [Amar] Singh’s – for the lack of another word – genius as a one-man social networking site that helped convince the Congress to seek out Mulayam Singh Yadav’s support when the CPI(M) withdrew its support to the UPA over the India-US civil nuclear deal in 2008.

In the UPA 2’s moment of crisis, caused by the departure of Mamata ‘I Want to Live Like a Tiger Cub’ Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress from the ruling alliance last week, there was no Amar Singh to facilitate matters. But it was his philosophy of politics abhorring a vacuum that was used this time too when the SP came to the UPA’s rescue.

“The SP will vote for the [nuclear] deal on July 22 on the basis of the prime minister’s assurances,” Amar Singh had told the nation in 2008, carefully adding that the party was not with the UPA on the issue of price rise. Before Friday, Mulayam Singh must have taken out Amar Singh’s heavily underlined copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People that he had forgotten to return, and even before Banerjee took her train out of New Delhi Station, the SP chief announced that his party’s support to the UPA would continue even as it will “continue to oppose FDI and the diesel price increase”.

In both cases of knights from the SP in shining kurta coming to rescue the UPA damsel in distress, the reason cited for supporting the central government – despite not caring two hoots for what the prime minister had to say about the need for nuclear power then and the need for FDI reforms now – was that old chestnut: to keep communal forces at bay.

Since the SP has turned out to be the fulcrum of power, the question does need repeating: what does the SP gain by supporting the government while opposing its policies?

Tehelka reminds us that the playing field is pretty level:

Mulayam Singh Yadav is a seasoned politician and he realises the danger in pulling out before Mayawati announces her move. After all, for the 22 MPs the SP has, the BSP also has 21 MPs. He knows that in the event of Mayawati’s stepping in to fill the vacuum he will have created by announcing his withdrawal from the UPA, the BSP chief could force the Congress to give UP a sticky governor.

But there are also long term calculations which require us to look back at the state elections in March this year. There was a 6% vote swing towards the SP in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP, on the other hand lost 2% of the vote share, and the Congress gained 2%. While the Congress gained in UP, Punjab as well as several small states, the BJP’s only gains were in small states. The numbers indicate that, unless something dramatic happens in the coming months, the BJP is set to lose its national vote share. Although the Congress may increase its lead over the BJP in the coming general election, it does not look like a clear winner.

Mulayam stands to gain by postponing the general election. He needs time to talk up a third front. Almost nobody believes in the F3 now, but by repeatedly jolting the UPA in the next few months, the SP may be able to convince some set of people that F3 is not a blast from the past. It just might prevent a few small parties from joining either the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led NDA, leaving both coalitions a little weaker. Also, by talking up an “anti-communal” alliance, he may weaken his bete noir, the BSP, which has not been above a cosy relationship with the BJP.

The best scenario that Mulayam may contemplate is also very unlikely: that a F3 government does manage to form after the next general election. However, if the BJP can be kept on the backfoot, a somewhat weakened UPA might still be the single largest grouping. In the resulting horse-trade with Trinamool out of trading, the SP could well gain more power than its vote share entitles it to.

Leveraging is something that an adept politician like Mulayam is good at.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm

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