On the face of it, the Supreme Court judgement does not deny Mulayam Singh Yadav the legislative strength he needs to continue as chief minister.
But his political rivals in the state, including the Congress and the BSP, insist the question wasn't of numbers. It was about the 'constitutional validity' of his continuation in office.
Pradesh Congress Committee president Salman Khurshid, who is also a Supreme Court lawyer, argued that the court segregated the 13 disqualified MLAs from the 24 - who hitched onto the Mulayam bandwagon after a time gap - to obviate the provision of the anti-defection law that permits a split if one-third of the party MLAs part company. Once separated, the two groups, which declared intent to switch sides on different dates, automatically attracted disqualification.
Indeed, Mulayam still has a numerical majority in the assembly with an effective strength of 365 after deducting 37 from 402. But, Khurshid cited the court’s judgement to argue that it applied as much to the 10 BJP legislators who voted for the CM in the January 25 confidence vote and now provide him with the numbers he needs to continue.
How? To that the Congress leader remarked that if the 13 MLAs stood disqualified from the date they went to the Governor in support of Mulayam in August 2003, how could the BJP legislators who signed the assembly register for the CM in the trust motion escape the consequences of the judgement.
"Mulayam’s continuation will cock a snook at the Supreme Court. It is a constitutional issue that needs to be addressed by constitutional authorities," Khurshid remarked without naming the Governor.
However, in its initial reaction, the Congress’ central leadership did not raise the constitutional question. It merely asked the CM to demit office on 'moral grounds'.
A known bete noire of Mulayam, the PCC chief received support from Mayawati’s party. BSP. "As the constitutional head of the state, the Governor should act on the basis of the court's judgement," said BSP spokesman Sudhir Goyal.
Even the BJP, which, like the BSP, had petitioned the President to impose central rule in UP, maintained that Mulayam should relinquish office on moral grounds.
"If he does not resign on his own, the Centre should place UP under President’s Rule," said party spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
In this backdrop, the Congress-led UPA's obvious choice should be to send Mulayam packing in the state where assembly polls are due a couple of months from now.
But the compulsions of coalition politics and the CPM’s known proximity to the SP leader could be a spanner in the works, regardless of Khurshid’s seemingly forceful argument and the BSP-BJP’s supportive positions.
Political observers are of the view that elections without Mulayam at the helm would be much fairer and the outcome closer to the public mood. But Article 356 has for long been an anathema not just for the Left but also for regional parties such as the DMK that is part of the UPA.
This kind of forecloses the Congress' options; a dilemma evident in AICC spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan’s remark that Mulayam should quit on moral grounds to serve the interest of justice.