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Mulayam?s sop story

Politicians seldom learn from others? mistakes. What else can explain UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav?s decision to go on a poll-sop spree before the impending assembly elections, writes Prakash Patra.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 04:36 IST

Politicians seldom learn from others’ mistakes. What else can explain Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to go on a poll-sop spree before the impending assembly elections in the state?

If recent instances are any indication, populist promises and slogans, particularly by ruling parties, may catch the fancy of the electorate, but rarely deliver votes. This happened during the last Lok Sabha elections when the NDA was humbled despite its high-pitched ‘India Shining’ campaign. There were few takers in Andhra Pradesh for a promise by Chandrababu Naidu, then considered among the country’s best chief ministers, to make his home state the ‘temple of modern India’.

The same happened to Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Soon after her party was routed in the Lok Sabha polls, she, too, went on a binge and announced several populist schemes, targeting specific audiences, in her bid to retain power. She rolled back all the controversial decisions that had led to loss of her popularity. Yet, her year-long effort went waste and the electorate brought back the octogenarian M. Karunanidhi. The same story was repeated in Bihar where the once invincible Lalu Prasad Yadav’s formidable Muslim-Yadav combination crumbled and failed to bring Rabri Devi back to power.

Essentially, it is the issues that affect the aam aadmi — bijli, pani and sadak (power, water and roads) — that have determined the fate of most of the ruling parties. It has been the overall perception of governance that has motivated the electorate.

Coming to Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, despite a clear verdict from the electorate, was able to form the government in the state only with the support of splinter groups. The split in the Bahujan Samaj Party, which stood second in the polls, gave Yadav a comfortable majority. Yadav lined up cine-stars and top industrial houses to set up projects to convert Uttar Pradesh into ‘Uttam Pradesh’. Three years down the line, nothing much has happened. The ground realities have not changed significantly.

Rather, his government has been embroiled in one controversy after another. The deteriorating law and order situation has put a big question mark on his ability to provide good governance. The politicisation of the bureaucracy, which is not a new phenomenon in UP, has reached a new high, while the delivery of public services remains low.

As he celebrates his achievements, his partners in power, like Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, are nowhere to be seen at the programmes. Instead, Singh is toying with the idea of joining the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre and pulling out of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. Whether he joins or not is a matter of time, but he has already made it clear that he is with VP Singh’s Jan Dal, which has taken up the farmers’ cause to dislodge Yadav.

But a politician rarely loses hope. Pitted against all odds, Yadav is fighting a lone battle to retain his clout in the state. And since the happenings in UP will have a major bearing on the national political scene, the result is that the state has virtually been turned into a major battleground, with all the key players of national politics making determined bids.

History has come full circle. Yadav’s emergence as a powerful voice of the backward and downtrodden communities was largely due to the failures of the Congress regime led by VP Singh in the early Eighties. Today, he finds his bete noire becoming the rallying point for his political opponents. Charges, counter-charges, allegations of favouritism and corruption are being traded openly. While VP Singh accuses the Chief Minister of showering favours on the Ambanis, Yadav’s supporters raise questions about Singh’s son acquiring property worth crores in Allahabad. To make matters worse for him, the Left and his sworn foes like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan have teamed up with the former Raja of Manda to dislodge him. Even a two-man party led by Hari Shankar Tiwari has different ideas about the government.

While the Congress is keeping its cards close to its chest, the main contender for power, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, is miles ahead in her poll preparedness. In her new incarnation as an ‘inclusive’ politician, she is reaching out to upper castes to provide a winnable combination of Dalits, Muslims, Brahmins and the most backward castes. With the BJP in disarray, she is sparing no efforts to woo its disgruntled upper-caste vote base.

Aware of the odds against him, Mulayam has gone on a poll-sops announcing spree. Unemployment allowance for youths, saris for poor women, increase in allowances for ex-MLAs, pension for Misa and DIR detenues, power subsidy for farmers, cash awards for girl students… name a potential constituency and he has a scheme for it.

Mulayam probably sees a silver lining in a multi-cornered contest. He is aware that if he could retain his Muslim-Yadav vote bank, he has a chance of bouncing back to power. But will he? He may hope to capitalise on the crumbling of various Muslim fronts that had taken shape in the aftermath of the Assam elections. His soft stance on the banned Simi and his populist sops to madrasas can, he may hope, put him in good stead among the minority community. But the Congress and the BSP, too, are claimants to that vote base.