Monday, October 6, 2008


In March this year, as the Congress was giving the first signals of falling out with Mayawati and cozying up to Mulayam Yadav's Samajwadi Party(SP) again, I had written that the latter, badly mauled by Mayawati in the assembly elections, would only be too keen to ally with the Congress for the critical number of additional votes needed to get enough MPs into Parliament in the forthcoming elections. Was the Congress ever going to benefit from the alliance?

It was clear then, as it is now, that the only real loser from an alliance between the two parties was going to be the Congress. Yes, with only about 8 percent of the vote share in UP, the Congress appears to have little choice as it has no hope in hell of gaining many more than the two seats of the Nehru-Gandhi family. But, is that the way forward for the Congress to reclaim the state from Mulayam and Mayawati, the two regional-cum-caste leaders who have literally hijacked the state from the two principal national parties, Congress and the BJP?

Mayawati is quickly emerging as a powerful third force nationally. Both the BJP and the Congress have discovered that any all alliances with her have only helped her become stronger at their expense. Mulayam, on the other hand, has very little influence outside of UP. He and Mayawati are implacable enemies who will never come together because each thinks the other needs be the much junior partner. With his 'secular' credentials (remember him calling SIMI secular?) his party will become lifeless and irrelevant if he ties up with the BJP as Muslims will desert him for the Congress en masse. That leaves him with only two choices: the Congress or the yet-to-settle Third Front.

When Dr Manmohan Singh took the brave decision to go ahead with the Indo-US Nuclear Deal despite the opposition of the commies, there was only one way he could pull it off. And that is what he did. In one of the most abrupt turnarounds witnessed in India's political history, the SP shed the 'unbreakable' Third Front without warning after just one hour long meeting with former President Abdul Kalam to be convinced that the deal was good for India! The Congress got SP's 39 MPs and possibly more thanks to the tremendous 'bargaining' skills of SP general secretary Amar Singh, and sailed through the confidence motion of July 22, 2008.

For a few days, the Congress-SP honeymoon appeared to be perfect, even better than the one that the Congress had enjoyed with Mayawati. It was hastily announced after the Trust Vote that both parties would enter into a national alliance to fight the next elections. That was the life-giving dose of oxygen that the SP needed to remain as relevant and strong as it was till Mayawati started its slide. The Congress appeared to be playing ball, till the first disagreement surfaced in Madhya Pradesh. Then, the repeatedly delayed negotiations on the seat sharing arrangement in UP also failed to yield any agreement, with the Congress asking for more than its pound of flesh by demanding several seats more that the dozen that the SP was willing to give.

Mulayam and his man Friday Amar Singh, for all their astuteness, failed to realise that by ditching the Third Front and annoying the Left to support the Congress, they had isolated themselves completely and left themselves at the mercy of the Congress, without any worthwhile bargaining power except the perceived weakness of the Congress in UP. Mayawati almost immediately stepped into the space vacated by them, to emerge from nowhere as the very powerful Prime Ministerial candidate of all parties except the Congress and the BJP, and their allies.

This time it seems that the Congress has sensed that it has a real opportunity to move up the electoral charts in UP after very long time. This time it seems it has also realised that it has successfully isolated one of its two principal opponents in that huge state. Notwithstanding the fact that is very weak as of now, the only way for the Congress to get back is at the expense of either Mulayam or Mayawati. The former is formidable and the latter in its net.

There is no better way to defeat an opponent than after first isolating him. Is the Congress preparing to move in for the kill? Is its alliance with SP all but over?

The events of the last couple of days show that Amar Singh has finally realised that he and Mulayam have been had. They have understood that any alliance with the Congress will have to be on terms dictated by the Congress. They have also discovered a bit too late that they have no maneuvering space. So, now they are desperately trying to create that. How are they doing it? By going back to the tried and tested 'Muslim' card to scare the Congress.

That is why, after first demanding a judicial enquiry into the Batla house encounter in Delhi in which Inspector Sharma died, Amar Singh has today started speaking the language of some Muslim organisations who have been alleging that the inspector was shot by his own colleagues and not by terrorists as claimed by the police. The warning to the Congress is clear: if you think that you can ditch us and re-emerge as a strong force in UP on your own at our expense, we will incite Muslims and ensure that they don't vote for you.

Notwithstanding all the tricks that the Mulayam-Amar duo may employ to remain relevant as the political force they were in UP, the Congress, in its own interest, must not give in. It is time for the party to move in and strike a decisive blow; it is not time for it to join up with the game it has trapped to try and hunt down more. That mistake might prove to be fatal.

If the Batla house encounter was not fake and if the police have actually got the right guys and clinching evidence to nail them, then the Muslim ploy being used the SP will rebound on it viciously. The Congress has only to time its strike well.

Readers may also read:
1. Congress: from sickle to cycle
2. Maya chal: Advani lal, Sonia behal