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How Kamal Nath left Mulayam high and dry

By T V R Shenoy
December 18, 2012 20:55 IST
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Mulayam has no option but to continue supporting the government while Mayawati reaps the benefits.

Kudos to Kamal Nath, but you wonder if Mulayam has been left stranded while his rivals float across the river, says T V R Shenoy.

Let us talk about the tiger, the cow, and the pile of hay.

The tale -- it is actually an exercise in teaching logic -- runs something like this: a man had to row a tiger, a cow, and a bundle of hay across a river.

The catch was that he could transport only any two at any given time. But the cow would eat the hay if left alone with the bundle, and the tiger would do likewise with the cow in the man's absence.

In what order would the man have to row back and forth to ensure that all three reached the other shore in good order?

A question that fascinated me ever since I heard the story over sixty years ago was how anyone could assume that the trio would neither cause any injury nor come to harm as long as the man was around.

Leaving that aside for the moment, is it not a satisfying parable for the current situation in Parliament?

The tiger and the cow stand for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The river is the parliamentary session. The man charged with taking them across without killing each other is Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath. And the bundle of hay is the Manmohan Singh ministry.

I have the most sincere admiration for Kamal Nath's efforts. The Union ministry of roads and highways was at its best when Major General B C Khanduri held the portfolio in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era; it sank into torpor when the United Progressive Alliance came to power, and Kamal Nath was charged with reviving it in 2009.

He became the Union urban development minister two years later, and was given additional charge of parliamentary affairs in October 2012.

Kamal Nath's task is to shepherd legislation through a Parliament where the Manmohan Singh ministry is in a minority in both Houses. Always short of votes in the Rajya Sabha, the government was pushed below the magic number of 272 -- the barest of majorities -- in the Lok Sabha following the exit of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.

This leaves the government dependent both on Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party -- and they detest each other.

As I wrote in my last column, the Trinamool Congress, the AIADMK, and the Biju Janata Dal opposed foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail at least partly because all three want a general election as soon as possible.

The BJP is, probably, not as well prepared, but saw a political advantage both because foreign direct investment in retail is unpopular and because it wanted to highlight the Manmohan Singh ministry's lack of numbers.

The Congress is reeling under the weight of economic mismanagement and charges of corruption. The Bahujan Samaj Party is yet to recover from losing the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha polls. These are politically valid reasons to avoid an early general election.

But why did Mulayam Singh Yadav bail out the government? Was that a miscalculation?

First, the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh has deteriorated since the Akhilesh Yadav ministry took office in May 2012. (There have been at least seven communal 'incidents' since then.)

Logically, the Samajwadi Party should prefer a general election before the anti-incumbency factor takes root, to increase its numbers and gain more leverage in the next House.

Second, Mulayam Singh Yadav himself said in the Lok Sabha that foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail is not a good arrangement for farmers and consumers, and is an outright bad deal for existing retailers.

Whether or not you agree with that position it is definitely a vote loser.

Third, Mulayam Singh Yadav's stated excuse for bailing out the ministry -- that it would be tantamount to supporting 'communal forces' -- makes no political sense. The BJP is a shadow of its old self as far as Uttar Pradesh is concerned, and it is Mayawati's party that is the Samajwadi Party's chief foe.

What is the point of being seen hand in hand with the Bahujan Samaj Party?

Fourth, Mayawati leveraged her influence brilliantly by forcing the Manmohan Singh ministry to push the controversial idea of promotion through reservation. That would re-energise the Bahujan Samaj Party's Dalit base, but it would alienate those sections of the upper castes in Uttar Pradesh that voted for the Samajwadi Party earlier this year.

Having alienated the trading community over the issue of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, why would Mulayam Singh Yadav want to irritate upper caste voters too?

Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, mischievously suggested that the voting in the Lok Sabha had been affected by thoughts of 'CBI vs FDI'. If so, the Samajwadi Party boss was destined to be disappointed.

On December 13, the Supreme Court said the Central Bureau of Investigation should proceed with its investigation of charges that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, held assets disproportionate to any known source of income.

Ironically, at about the same time, Samajwadi Party MPs were walking out of the Rajya Sabha after the government proposed introducing reservation in government jobs for Dalits and tribals.

Where does this leave the Samajwadi Party supremo? He made himself unpopular with small traders. He has failed to protect the interests of his upper caste voters (possibly opening the door for a return to either the BJP or the Congress). He has gained no relief at all in the cases against him. His government in Uttar Pradesh is losing popularity by the day. He has lost such few friends as he had in the Opposition.

I have no idea how Kamal Nath spun his magic, but he has boxed Mulayam Singh Yadav into a corner where he has no options but to continue supporting the government -- while Mayawati reaps the benefits.

Kudos to the parliamentary affairs minister, but you have to wonder if the Samajwadi Party boss has been left stranded while his rivals float across the river.

For more columns by Mr T V R Shenoy, please click here.

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