Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal’s statement on President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh in the event of a fractured verdict is loaded with strong political meaning.
Unlike some Congress leaders, Jaiswal is not known to speak out of turn. He is also not the first Congress leader to have projected such a scenario after the multi-phase polling.
Digvijaya Singh and others have made similar projections primarily to dispel the impression that the Congress is not the main contender for power in the key state. The fact, however, remains the complexion of the next government in UP will be decided by the numbers in the individual kitty of various parties.
Those with an ear to the ground insist that the initial phases of the poll have shown Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav some length ahead of other parties and thus he is a strong contender for the single-largest party slot. These pundits also claim western UP, where BSP chief Mayawati had done exceedingly well in 2007, is unlikely to remain unaffected by such signals from eastern and central UP.
If this prognosis comes true, the Cong-RLD alliance in west UP, where 134 seats are at stake, could be a limited gainer in the region where it has invested high hopes.
The other area of concern for the Congress is that Mayawati is down but not out and there is life in the BJP’s challenge in urban areas.
“The SP wave, which started from the east, has reached UP’s west,” said a Muslim voter in Meerut. Substantially present in western UP, the Muslims are a decisive factor in many seats. On the eve of the sixth phase of polling on February 28, the picture remains hazy, to state the least.
This is primarily on account of sharp divisions among all communities minus perhaps the Jats and the Dalits.
At the core of the other imponderables are first-time voters, numbering 14.8 million, and the women electorate, who turned out in large numbers in the first five phases. This has left confused even the politicos who normally know whether they are winning or losing.
In a scenario where four parties are evenly fighting for each and every caste and seat it’s hard to predict the outcome.
It is generally believed that Mulayam would lead a hung house and will form the government with Congress-RLD support.
RLD chief Ajit Singh’s dislike for Mulayam dates back to the days when he had returned from abroad to take over his father’s legacy in the mid-1980s. It intensified when the late prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh pitted Ajit against Mulayam for the chief minister’s post in the late 1980s.
By creating the spectre of President’s rule, the Congress is hurting its own cause.
The ambience of uncertainty is prompting the Muslims to go to the SP in larger numbers. As the SP does not have the Yadav vote in adequate numbers in west UP, the trend could even help the BSP, whose Dalit vote is intact.
Conventional political wisdom has it that a hung house is a mandate for like-minded parties to work together on an agreed programme. If the Congress refuses to prop up a government, it will be seen as a usurper.
“President’s rule in a state is actually governance by proxy by the centre,” said a political observer, cautioning that it will hurt Rahul Gandhi’s image and that of his party. The best course available to them is to stay out of power and extend issue-based support to the SP. In that event the RLD will have to take its own call.