Congress is on path of remarkable recovery in UP
The Congress has made it clear that this time if it supports the Samajwadi Party government, it will join it. Is this another recipe for disaster? Aditi Phadnis analyses
Although the first phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh is due on Wednesday, reports from the field suggest the assembly election is all but wrapped up. Subject to the usual disclaimers -- "multi-cornered contests are notoriously unreliable to predict"; "it is too early in the game to decide on the outcome" and so on -- it appears that the Congress is on the path of remarkable recovery from the 22 seats it currently has in a house of 403 and should it cross 60, will find itself in the position of being a kingmaker.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party are in opposite camps, the BJP will have no option but to help prop up a Bahujan Samaj Party government if Mayawati should get the requisite numbers; and the Congress will help SP.
However, both the Congress and the SP have denied any "arrangement". But when SP workers had recently held a demonstration against Rahul Gandhi in Aligarh, Mulayam Singh suspended those workers from the party.
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Image: Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters after receiving a garland from his party workers during an election campaign rally at Jari village, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
Has Mulayam Singh learnt from his mistakes?
Either way, it is useful to know what to expect from Mulayam Singh. How different will his government be from the ones he has headed in the past? Has he learnt anything from the mistakes he made?
A lot depends on the internal dynamics of the SP itself. Socialist, the party might like to call itself, but it has never shied away from family rule, especially since the last time the party was in power: Mulayam Singh's brother Shivpal, his cousin Ramgopal, nephew Dharmendra and son Akhilesh were the moving figures behind the administration in Lucknow. Shivpal was the public works department minister but wielded enormous clout in the government and was responsible for recruitment in the state's police force for allegedly pecuniary benefits.
In fact, one of the reasons the police force in UP is considered ineffective is the probe Mayawati ordered after she came to power in 2007, sacking thousands of policemen who were appointed by the Mulayam Singh government and replacing them with appointees of her own. The transition weakened the effectiveness of the police force.
Image: SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav addresses a rally in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh
'Shivpal Singh Yadav matters little in SP today'
After SP lost power, it set out to clean up its stables. Party General Secretary Amar Singh left. Muslim pedagogue Azam Khan returned. And in 2009, Mulayam Singh appointed Akhilesh president of the SP.
Because of the power he had wielded, a large number of party leaders had cast their lot with Shivpal Singh Yadav, leader of the Opposition in the UP Assembly and younger brother of SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav is seeking re-election from the seat.
Now Akhilesh began whittling his uncle's sphere of influence. Observers got the first indication of discord in December last year over the induction of Hasanuddin Siddiqui.
Siddiqui was Shivpal's contribution to SP; he thought a great coup because he is the brother of Mayawati confidant and senior minister Nasimuddin Siddiqui. But Akhilesh, who was the party president, said Hasanuddin was never offered membership of the party and was not a member of the SP. Five days later, Shivpal said, "I had inducted Hasanuddin into the party. He is a member."
Mulayam Singh had to step in to sort the matter out. But the cat was out of the bag. The SP was changing.
Image: Shivpal Singh Yadav, brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav
If SP comes to power on its own Akhilesh to be CM
There were many other incidents to suggest Akhilesh was re-crafting the party. Sunny Yadav was given the nomination from Sahjanwan Gorakhpur, dropping sitting member of Legislative Assembly Yashpal Rawat. D P Yadav, liquor baron and former minister in the SP government, was to have returned to SP. Akhilesh not only shot the plan down but also threw out
Mohan Singh, veteran SP leader who tried to insist publicly that D P Yadav should be brought back. Another former SP leader Shyam Kishore Yadav, who is now BSP candidate from Lucknow's Sarojini Nagar seat, said SP had not been fair to Shivpal. "Before joining the BSP, I was close to Shivpal. He now matters little in the SP," he told local newspapers.
So are we looking at a term for Akhilesh (who is, by the way, a Member of Parliament) in UP?
That could be good for UP but is unlikely to happen. Internally, the party appears to have decided that if there is an alliance government in UP, Mulayam Singh will be chief minister. Only if the SP comes to power on its own will Akhilesh get the job.
Image: Akhilesh Yadav addresses a rally in UP
Cong-SP alliance a recipe for disaster?
Recognising that the centre of gravity in the party is veering wildly, Mulayam Singh has wisely refused to spell out who the party's chief ministerial candidate will be. But the party's preferences are clear. Azam Khan said in Lucknow last week, "Only 'netaji' [Mulayam Singh] could be the choice for the post of chief minister if the party wins in the Assembly elections. Mulayam is there and he will become CM. He is fit for the job." Shivpal echoed Khan, "There is only one leader in the SP and that is netaji. The CM is chosen by the elected MLAs."
With this order of internecine warfare, what can be expected from the government? The Congress has made it clear internally that this time if it supports the SP government, it will join it. Is this another recipe for disaster?
In the past, through myriad ways, Mulayam Singh has succeeded in co-opting and neutralising the Congress: offering Congress MLAs chairmanship of boards, cabinet rank to Congress appointees in the state, "help" in obtaining dealerships and so on. That cozy relationship broke down during Amar Singh's tenure in the SP. But now, things are different.