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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2857

Congress, Samajwadi party cozying up in Uttar Pradesh

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune, Delhi

New Delhi, 05 April ( The Congress and the Samajwadi party are not feeling shy of admitting their new found coziness but they are not rushing into a formal alliance. This is no consolation to Mayawati, the BSP supremo, who only a month ago was on cloud nine after she made an unscheduled visit to 10 Janpath and remained huddled with Sonia Gandhi for several hours. Some clarity in the Congress-SP-BSP equation is expected only by around August, according to observers of the Delhi power circuit. But already requiem is being said for the UNPA, the third front floated by Chandrababu Naidu. Third option idea of CPI (M) General Secretary, Prakash Karat's is a pipe dream in the present circumstances, says Marxist veteran Jyothi Basu.

Initially, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) and Jitin Prasad of Rahul's babalog brigade (Jitin is the son of late Jitendra Prasada, who was political secretary to Rajiv Gandhi) were given credit for the thaw in the Cong-SP relations. Now, party leaders are giving the credit to Crown Prince.

Rahul Gandhi worked diligently behind the scenes. Digvijay Singh, general secretary in charge of UP, ably assisted him and even has put an ideological spin saying, the SP's secular credentials are unimpeachable despite its occasional dabbling with the BJP. Digvijay also tapped his old Allahabad contacts to good use.

Congress circles say there is reason for Rahul to take the initiative. He has decided to revert back to UP and make it his 'karma bhoomi'. "Unless he proves his leadership mettle here, he will have less and less acceptance notwithstanding the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv legacy. So far he has not been a big draw. His nursing of the UP Congress did not pay dividends in the assembly elections. The party remains weak and has just two or three pockets like Amethi and Raibarelly, where also the SP and BSP are at a biting distance. An embrace with BSP will not benefit us as Mayawati will not concede an inch of her turf space. This realization made him convince his mother and made her turn to Mulayam. More over, there are so many issues for launching agitations in UP but Rahul needs a support to make him hit bull's eye with his agitations. Mulayam is already confronting Mayawati with his new brand of street politics. He will be more than happy to lend his support to Rahul and in fact be his ally in taking on Mayawati".

Both the SP and the Congress are looking for short term gains. Mulayam knows he cannot fight on two fronts – Delhi and UP. More over, his gaze is fixed to UP. With the Congress on his right side he gets the space for maneuvers. He wanted some trade offs to ink the deal. The Congress leadership has no difficulty to concede his wish list, which is not very long and not very difficult to fulfill either. For instance, Mulayam doesn't want the CBI to breath down his neck by taking up cases referred to by Chief Minister Mayawati. This request was granted and the CBI has conveyed a blunt no to Lucknow.

No one within and outside SP take Chandrababu Naidu's claim that his third front of UNPA is projecting its chairman, Mulayam, as the prime ministerial candidate.

In fact, there is a sneaking fear that Naidu is using Mulayam' s candidature as a smoke screen to hide his own prime ministerial ambitions. This is clear from the recent Jabalpur conclave of the Samajwadi party. Both Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh clearly and unambiguously declared that the SP was no threat to the Congress.

Amar Singh has been a sore point in the Cong-SP relations in a manner of speaking. The slide in the ties started after he attended the first UPA thanking dinner at 10 Janpath uninvited four years back. Now he is willing to forget the bitter past. He has found scapegoats in Ahmed Patel, Ambika Sonia and garrulous Jai Ram Ramesh, who he said had poisoned the mind of Madam Sonia against him and his party.

Contrary to popular perception, Congress did not shun and by-pass Amar Singh in reaching out to Mulayam. Rahul himself telephoned Amar Singh and conveyed condolences on the death of his aged father. It is pointed out such a telephone call would not have gone to SP General Secretary if Congress wanted to ignore him. Yes, Amarsingh is often derisively called a wheeler –dealer- dalal is the Hindi word. But he is in the Rajya Sabha and serves a useful purpose. Mulayam also doesn't want to discard Amar Singh who stood by him in his days of wilderness, and got him the UNPA platform for survival.

Like a good wordsmith, Amar Singh has now found justification for his party moving closer to the Congress in UP. If the Left can oppose the Congress in West Bengal and Kerala and yet support UPA in Delhi, what is wrong in we aligning with the Congress in UP and opposing it in Delhi, he asks.

Conversations with the Samajwadi leaders show that that by cozying up to Congress, Mulayam wants to concentrate his energies to consolidate his 17 per cent vote share in Uttar Pradesh and emerge stronger to humble Mayawati in the Lok Sabha elections. "This is his short to medium term goal since the assembly elections will take place after four years", said a SP leader on the condition of anonymity. More over, he needs to be on the right side of the Centre as he is facing as many as six cases slapped by Chief Minister Mayawati, who wants the CBI to investigate them.

One of these cases relates to scam in recruitment of police constables, and involves Mulayam's younger brother. Another is a multi-crore rupee scam relating to pilferage of food grains meant for public distribution system. As pointed out at the outset, the CBI has turned down the Mayawati request. The plea the agency took was interesting. First it said it is overworked and understaffed. Second it said the cases against Mulayam have no inter-state ramifications. This is a lame excuse since many times CBI takes up cases which are pure vanilla (local) affairs like the Nandigram firing.

In befriending the SP, the Congress leadership is seeking to meet its immediate goal namely shoring up the numbers in the Rajya Sabha's treasury benches. After the latest round of elections to the Rajya Sabha, Congress led UPA has lost its majority in the House of elders. The Left may not desert the ruling alliance but the relations will continue to be under strain on account of India-US nuke deal. In other words, the Congress needs to search for a political cushion and SP provides it.

Congress's concern vis-à-vis BSP is not Uttar Pradesh but other election bound states this year, namely, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. Electoral politics in these states are mainly a two-logged race between the Congress and the BJP. Though BSP is not a major force, it can split the votes to the disadvantage of the Congress in a three-way or four cornered (SP included) fight. This is what BSP did in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh recently. This ground reality prompted Congress to limit interaction with Mayawati to outside UP for mutual advantage. Broad details of the deal are still to be worked out. It is possible the Congress will have a tacit seat understanding with the BSP like the Marxists had with some local Hindutva groups in Kerala.

Senior Congress leaders here think that there is still time for talk about alliances for the next Lok Sabha elections. In fact, the mood in the party is against any formal poll alignments for the next Lok Sabha election. That is why the Congress has turned a cold eye towards NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who wants the UPA to fight the next Lok Sabha elections as a time tested alliance and project Manmohan Singh as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

In other words, new realignments are likely on the political landscape between now and the announcement of the date for Lok Sabha/ assembly elections. Till then, political parties will prefer to be in the denial mode on the tie-ups they are putting in place in closed door conversations.

- Asian Tribune -

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