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Aditi Phadnis: The Muslim-Yadav card

Mulayam Singh is desperately trying to revive the old alliance

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Jijeevisha is a Hindi word describing the will to live. It is much in use in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the context of the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The past few months haven’t been kind to Yadav. He thought his party was sinking because of Amar Singh, his former general secretary. But although he dropped Singh, the condition of the SP has not improved. In the last electoral test, the by-election for the Domariaganj assembly seat in June, the SP was No. 4. To Yadav’s discomfiture — and that of his colleagues who had been saying that only when Singh was thrown out would SP’s fortunes improve — an unknown party, the Peace Party, supported by Singh, came third.

Earlier this week, Yadav apologised to the Muslims for having tied up with Kalyan Singh. This has softened the Muslims towards him but has deeply angered the Lodhs, the caste that Kalyan Singh represents. The feeling among the Lodhs is: He can’t use us and throw us away. Kalyan Singh contested the 2007 assembly elections as an independent candidate but was supported by the SP. His son Rajvir lost the election from home turf Dibai by 1.5 lakh votes to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In 2009, Rajvir formally joined the SP. But he left the party 11 months later. When Yadav began talking as if his biggest mistake was to have tied up with Kalyan Singh, it was the Muslims he was speaking to. But the Lodhs were listening as well. The revenge will not take long coming. It won’t be dramatic but it will decimate the SP vote bank — in assembly constituencies, 3,000 to 5,000 votes can represent the gap between victory and defeat. And if the Lodhs turn away from the SP in every constituency, well, the SP is going to face serious haemorrhage.

The short point is that unless Yadav can get his act together in UP, small challengers like the Peace Party and Kalyan Singh could spell devastation for his plans of challenging Mayawati.

The Peace Party of India (PPI) was started by bureaucrat — he was selected for the allied services and worked as a customs officer — Dr Mohammad Ayub, who is actually a trained surgeon. He gave up his government job and started a hospital in his hometown Gorakhpur. The PPI was launched in 2008, not necessarily as a party for Muslims, but for professionals. Chartered accountants, doctors and lawyers are its members. The party has units in 35 districts in UP but is important only in eastern UP. In Domariaganj, it fielded a Brahmin. So you could possibly call it a very small, professionals’ version of the BSP in its “sarvajan samaaj” mode.

The PPI is going to nibble away at Congress and SP votes, but it is the SP that is most worried. Hence Yadav’s “apology” and his plans to launch Azam Khan as the next SP star. Azam Khan was deposed by Jayaprada from Rampur in the run-up to the 2009 general election and left the party. He has returned and is likely to get a hero’s welcome. This will be another move to placate the Muslims. A meeting of the Ulema Council (the body of clerics from Azamgarh, formed after the Batla House encounter in 2008, which contested the 2009 elections) has also been sought by Yadav and could endorse him.

The thing is, UP is quite content with Mayawati. Sure there is corruption, but it isn’t of the scale that prevailed during the Yadav regime when even the water carrier in the SP was extorting. Considerable development is taking place in villages, especially for the Dalit community. While Mayawati has denied naming her brother Anand as her political heir, it is quite clear that he is the single-point source of advice when it comes to money matters. But Mayawati retains the veto power, something Yadav had lost towards the end of his last tenure — although he was warned about the activities of his brothers and cousins, he did not act. So, while there is no wave in Mayawati’s favour, levels of disapproval are low.

But on the other hand, Yadav is the only street fighter now left in UP. The Congress is too refined to oppose Mayawati (did you notice how the Congress reacted to UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna’s criticism of the chief minister some months ago? It was as if Bahuguna had made an indecent suggestion). The BJP is too old. That leaves only Yadav.

What Yadav is trying to do is to revive the Muslim-Yadav combine in UP that served his colleague Lalu Prasad so well in Bihar for so long. Such an alliance will give him leverage to get other castes on the bandwagon too, although at this point, it looks difficult — he has dispatched a colleague, Manoj Pande, to placate the Brahmins, but they are now looking to the Congress.

There are reports that Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam’s son, and Amar Singh had a meeting in London recently to see if a patch-up was possible. When discussions turned to financial matters, talks broke down. That relationship might be hard to repair. But, at a time when everything seems to be going against him, Mulayam Singh Yadav is not ready to throw in the towel. Not yet.

First Published: Sat, July 24 2010. 00:05 IST