The polity has come full circle since the 2004 elections. The Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav was a mere bystander then despite a sizeable legislative support in the 14th Lok Sabha. He has his big chance now of playing the kingmaker or the deal-breaker for the government in which he found no place four years ago.
For old-times sake and a life after elections in the third political front, the Left parties have sought the SP’s support to kill the nuclear pact the UPA wants with the US. But they aren’t sure, like certain UNPA constituents, with which side the wily Yadav chieftain would cast his lot of 39.
The numbers the SP has are crucial in a House with an effective strength of 542 with two vacancies and a member without a voting right. The magic number therefore is the very 272 that had eluded the Congress in 1998 after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s fall by one vote.
Mulayam had then denied the Congress a go at power despite the best efforts of CPM general secretary Prakash Karat’s venerated predecessor, Harkishan Singh Surjeet. But will history repeat itself on July 3—the day the SP-led UNPA will take a call on the deal for which the UPA has forsaken ties with the Leftists who delivered to the Congress in 2004 the numbers they couldn’t in 1998.
Together with the support of the SP and Ajit Singh’s RLD and Deve Gowda’s JD- S that have three members each, the UPA can cross the 272 mark by mopping up the floating votes. “It can be managed with some risk,” remarked a Congress functionary. “But the expedition will require the SP’s assured support.”
Mulayam’s reluctance to reveal his hand is attributed to the scheduled in-House UNPA consultations. But his allies and some SP colleagues opposed to the deal are in a degree of suspense.
Their circumspection stems from the high political and economic stakes in the proposed Indo-US arrangement and the role the SP leader’s close associate Amar Singh might play in the party’s stand. In recent months, Singh has been in contact on the vexed issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. An exchange of letters and a telephonic chat Rahul Gandhi had with him after his father’s death — followed by Amitabh Bachchan’s statement wishing the Gandhi family scion good luck for his future plans — were also seen as straws in the winds of change.
Elections way ahead of the 2009 schedule do not suit Mulayam, like most UPA partners seeking a longer interval to rein in inflation. But this factor necessitating support to the government could be negated by Mayawati’s reported plan to identify the deal with US President George Bush’s perceived anti-Muslim image.
Karat has disowned party colleague M K Pandhe’s rather crude bid to communalise the nuclear pact. But Mulayam would have to build into his strategy the Muslim view of the deal.
“I see no political gains accruing from our support of the deal,” said a senior SP leader: “If anything, we might end up alienating the Left and the UNPA partners besides giving Mayawati a chance to mislead the minorities at our cost.”
The way the issue plays out during elections could also be influenced by the position of parties surviving on Muslim support: the PDP, the Muslim League, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (UPA) and the National Conference (UNPA). Of these, the Muslim League has already gone public with its demand to nuke the pact.