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Why did Sonia sneak out of the back gate?
February 05, 2004
Why did Sonia Gandhi try to sneak out of Mayawati's house from the back door after her 'secret' meeting? The Congress (I) president is guarded night and day by the Special Protection Group, which means a cavalcade of cars, flashing lights and all, which is rather hard to miss. She must also have known that with the general election around the corner the media is camped outside the houses of all the major leaders. Nothing Sonia Gandhi could have done was better guaranteed to invite media speculation than her rather desperate attempt to sidle out in that silly fashion!
The only possible response to the query asked earlier is that Sonia Gandhi did not dare to face the assembled press corps because she had no answers to offer to their hard questions. The Congress (I) is now a poor fourth in Uttar Pradesh, the state which was once the foundation of all its fortunes. Save the 1991 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress has never been able to form a government without winning a majority of the seats from this giant state. (And in 1991 the Congress did not actually have a majority in the Lok Sabha.) Surely Uttar Pradesh has lost none of its importance, especially when the theory that the South was a 'Congress fortress' has long since been disproved.
Nobody, not even the most optimistic Congressman, is claiming that the party can win back a majority of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. The best the party can hope for is that the BJP shall be denied a sizeable chunk, and that the majority shall fall into the kitty of the Congress's allies. And there lies the nub: which party will be the Congress's ally?
There are two options -- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. In an ideal world, both would join hands with the Congress (I) to wrest the vast majority of the seats from Uttar Pradesh. The problem is that the leaders of the two parties -- Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati -- cannot stand each other. This dislike was, in fact, one of the reasons why Sonia Gandhi could not forge a coalition to back her bid for prime mnistership after the Vajpayee ministry fell in 1999. (The Congress president's perceived arrogance also played a part.)
Personally, I think it makes more sense for the Congress (I) to strike up an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mayawati is likely to offer Sonia Gandhi more seats than Mulayam Singh Yadav would be willing to give up; equally important, the alliance could be extended to Madhya Pradesh, where the Bahujan Samaj Party has a significant number of voters but the Samajwadi Party wields little influence. But all this is missing the point, which is that Sonia Gandhi needs to look to the composition of the next Lok Sabha as a whole. And if she needs to make a serious bid at forming a ministry she cannot do without the Samajwadi Party's aid.
There is a feeling that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his supporters could win up to 40 Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh. If true, their votes could be crucial to Sonia Gandhi in the 14th Lok Sabha. But a precondition for their support would be renouncing Mayawati.
Technically, of course, the issue has already been decided since the Congress (I) is a member of the alliance backing the Mulayam Singh Yadav ministry in Uttar Pradesh. But that is a minor detail. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister cares little for the support of the few Congress (I) legislators in the Vidhan Sabha, and his ministry will survive even if that party withdraws support. But it will be quite a spectacle if Sonia Gandhi should opt for an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the Lok Sabha polls while continuing to back the Samajwadi Party in the Vidhan Sabha! (It could happen; hasn't Sonia Gandhi repeatedly testified that she needs support from all 'secular' groups?)
Mayawati -- faced with unfriendly governments in both Delhi and Lucknow -- has compulsions of her own. But they are nothing compared to those of Sonia Gandhi, who desperately needs to heal the decade-old rift between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. If she fails, the Congress (I) may well be reduced to a two-digit total in the next Lok Sabha. With the stakes so high, small wonder that the Congress president is reduced to sneaking out through the back gate!