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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

New poll fashion
Saffron is in and secularism out, for Mulayam  
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: Whether the Samajwadi Party president and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is really secular? The political circles in Lucknow have serious doubts about Mr Yadav’s secular credentials. Many of Mr Yadav’s actions and statements may not have done any credence to his status as a firm believer in secularism.

For the first time, a question mark about his secular credentials was raised when Mr Yadav refused to support the candidature of the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi for the prime ministership in 1999. Mrs Gandhi’s name was proposed by the left parties, which was virtually supported by all the non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners. But for Mr Yadav’s opposition, Mrs Gandhi should have become the prime minister then. Later the BJP-led NDA, which the Samajwadi Party often described as communal, came to power. Even the leaders of the left parties, with whom Mr Yadav had excellent relations, had then severely criticised the Samajwadi Party leader’s stand.

For the past few years, the Samajwadi Party had been keeping away from the left and secular parties. The party had been refusing to have tie-ups with the left and secular parties to contest the elections. It had also been adopting a different stand from the left parties on various public issues. When the issue of unity among the secular forces to fight the coming Lok Sabha elections was raised by the left and secular parties, Mr Yadav spurned the proposal on the pretext that such alliances will never last long.

Though the Samajwadi Party had expressed its firm views against the pre-poll alliances, it went ahead with an electoral pact with the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh on the ground that the latter was a reliable partner. It is well known that Mr Singh had changed sides often and hardly an year ago, his party was a part of the ruling NDA. In fact Mr Yadav had been stating that his party would have tie-ups with the Rashtriya Kranti Party of former UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, who was accused of his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. However, Mr Singh, who had helped Mr Singh to become chief minister in August last year returned to the BJP-fold and as such the alliance did not materialize. 

The Samajwadi Party leaders are now claiming that it could not arrive at a poll alliance with the Congress in UP as the latter did not show any eagerness for such a tie-up since that party was trying to forge a poll pact with the Bahujan Samaj Party. They claimed that when the Congress leaders ultimately approached them for a tie-up after the latter’s offers were spurned by the BSP, the party had already finalised the names of its candidates and it was not possible for the party to change the list at the last moment. But it is also a truth that if the Samajwadi Party was at all enthusiastic for a tie-up with the Congress, it should have reached at some kind of understanding with the latter to avoid the splitting of the secular votes.

When the Congress threatened to withdraw support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in the state in the end of March, the Samajwadi Party leaders said that such a move would help only the communal forces though the government was stable. But when that party refused to support the candidature of Mrs Gandhi for the prime ministership in 1999 which ultimately led to the formation of the NDA government, it did not use the same yardstick.

The Samajwadi Party has fielded candidates in several seats in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra though it has no clout of its own in these states to save the security deposits and what to say of winning any seat. This may apparently affect the fortunes of the secular parties in a large number of seats as there may be some division among the minority votes. This may help the BJP or its allies in these states. The secular parties have criticised this stand of the Samajwadi Party. 

Moreover, the Samajwadi Party has not so far made its stand clear on its support in the event of a hung parliament. The party has refused to unequivocally make it clear that it will support only a secular government in the event of a hung Lok Sabha in the post-election scenario. This has given rise to speculation that his party may bail out the NDA if the latter failed to get a majority on its own. In this context, the statement of the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, who was Mr Yadav’s friend during his socialist days, that “Mr Yadav is not in the NDA, but he is a friend of NDA” has only created more confusion. Significantly, Mr Yadav has not reacted to Mr Fernandes’ statement.
All these developments have to be viewed in the context of the Samajwadi Party’s pro-BJP statements and actions like rejection the Congress demand for the removal of the BJP leader Kesri Nath Tripathi as Assembly Speaker, refusal to split the BJP soon after the formation of his government though that party was then vulnerable for a split, statement that his party had done better in the elections in Hindu-dominated areas than in Muslim belts, and failure of the Yadav government to oppose the chargesheet of the Central Bureau of Investigation dropping the conspiracy charges in the Ayodhya demolition case in which the senior BJP leaders are accused. 

Recently, Mr Yadav failed to attend a national Urdu conference in Lucknow though he had given his assent to participate in it. This was despite the fact that Mr Yadav was very much present in the state capital. The State Urban Development Minister, Mohammad Azam Khan, who was present at the conference, had to do a lot of talking to convince the participants about Mr Yadav’s absence at the meet. Mr Yadav’s absence at the meet had come in for sharp criticism from the Muslim circles.

But Mr Yadav stoutly denies that he is having any truck with the saffron party. He, however, disclosed that a very senior leader had recently approached him seeking the Samajwadi Party’s support to the NDA. The chief minister revealed that he had put some conditions to him for extending his party’s support to the NDA. These conditions included exclusion of scrapping of Article 370, implementation of uniform civil code and Ayodhya issue from the saffron party’s agenda. Apparently the leader could not accept them because “if they gave up these issues, what they could talk about?”, Mr Yadav asked.
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