On June 14 it was a threat. On June 15 it turned into an opportunity: it became clear that Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee were not on the same page on the presidential election. A text message doing the rounds in Delhi read: “As a thankyou gesture, upa govt proposes to put msy [Mulayam Singh Yadav] in place of u-turn signs across the country.” Terse, but pithy.
It took five rounds of negotiations by various UP interlocutors between Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh, including a meeting between the two leaders themselves, to break the TMC-SP relationship. The Congress was banking on Mulayam Singh’s famed “flexibility”. It showed its calculation was correct.
Mulayam Singh has never been a reliable ally. Chandra Shekhar was one of his mentors. But when it came to choosing a prime minister on that fateful day in Central Hall, Mulayam Singh backed V P Singh. When he couldn’t get along with V P Singh, he dumped him; the pretext being that V P Singh was negotiating with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) behind his back. He was then chief minister of UP. Then, he made common cause with Chandra Shekhar. And how did he describe the relationship? He told his biographers: “Ham to experiment kar rahe hain. VP ko dekh liya ab Chandra Shekhar ki bari hai. Baat bahut saaf hai: jis taraf Mulayam rahega wohi mazboot ho jayega” (I am experimenting. I have seen VP; now it is Chandra Shekhar’s turn. Whoever Mulayam aligns with will become strong).
That didn’t last long. In 1999, after the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Mulayam Singh told the Congress he would support it. On the strength of that assurance, Sonia Gandhi announced she had 272 MPs. Then he backed out.
In 2002, the SP was part of the People’s Front, a coalition of non-Congress and non-BJP political parties. A P J Abdul Kalam’s name was floated by the then BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. The Left parties opposed Kalam and decided to field Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, a veteran freedom fighter from the Indian National Army. However, the SP parted ways with the People’s Front at the eleventh hour and supported Kalam’s candidature. Though Left parties accused Mulayam Singh of betrayal, the SP chief got political mileage by supporting a “Muslim” for the post of president.
The Left overlooked that. But the last straw was July 2008, when Mulayam Singh abandoned the Left and other third-front parties to back the Congress on the Indo-US nuclear deal. And when support to the Congress continued, former colleague Amar Singh, who was then party general secretary, said Mulayam Singh got him to sign the letter of support to the Congress (that is with the president of India) because he wanted an insurance policy — if he decided to pull out from the arrangement, he could always say it was not his signature on the letter but that of a party functionary who was no longer in the SP.
The Congress knows all this. But maybe not Banerjee. So, although cousin Ramgopal Yadav told reporters ahead of Mulayam Singh’s meeting with Banerjee that the party was going to support Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata and Mulayam Singh announced their own slate of candidates — a slate that lasted just 24 hours. A few days later at a meeting of party workers, Mulayam Singh defended his decision to support the candidature of the finance minister and described him as a “capable, secular and learned leader”. But surely he knew all that before he lent his name to three other men? In the meeting, Mulayam Singh rejected reports of striking a “deal” with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
But the funny thing is, take a look at the U-turns in the past. In 2005, a 1,000-page petition was filed against Mulayam Singh and family, charging assets disproportionate to income. This was around the time the UPA had just formed a government and had excluded Mulayam Singh (and Amar Singh) from it. In 2007, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct a Preliminary Enquiry. The order coincided with the Assembly elections in UP. In October 2007, the CBI comes to court and says in an Interlocutory Application (IA) that it wants permission to proceed further. And suddenly in December, it says it’s changed its mind: it wants to withdraw the IA. The latter date coincides almost exactly with the SP’s support to the trust vote faced by the UPA on the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement (which led to an irreparable breach between the Left parties and the SP).
In 2009, just when the general elections are going on, the CBI says in an affidavit that it stands by its status report of October 2007. This is around the time negotiations have taken place and broken down between the Congress and the SP on seat sharing. And in 2011, the Supreme Court says its judgment on a review of the order of a CBI enquiry against him “is reserved”.
What next? The SP is on a mission. It believes the time to hold a Lok Sabha election is now. It has told party workers that candidates for all the 80 Lok Sabha seats will be announced by August. This is like saying: get ready for elections. If it has a say in the government that is formed at the Centre, guess what its first step would be?
No prizes offered.