The Congress views Rastriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh’s decision to withdraw his ministers in Uttar Pradesh as the beginning of the end of the Mulayam Singh Yadav regime, specially if the Supreme Court gives an adverse verdict in the case relating to the defection of 37 Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs to the Samajwadi Party.
The RLD’s departure would hurt the SP politically but would not destabilise its government. But the disqualification of 37 MLAs could reduce it to a minority - a scenario that could automatically lead to President’s Rule in UP without letting the Congress-led UPA government sully its hands or reduce Mulayam to a caretaker government with the badge of a "sinking ship".
The SP leader, on his part, may try to deal with the situation by dissolving the Assembly, with the absence of RLD members reducing the chances of dissent.
In fact, while hearing arguments on the validity of the split, the apex court on Tuesday wondered why the 37 MLAs supported the SP in 2003 and not any other party if their intention was to merely avoid dissolution of the Assembly and prevent the imposition of President’s Rule.
The Court felt that their action aroused suspicion as the MLAs could have supported the formation of a government even by the BJP or any other group.
"Mulayam's moral authority has eroded. He should step down on his own," said Ashok Gehlot, AICC general secretary in charge of UP, after Ajit Singh pulled out his ministers.
Though he refused to speculate on the possibility of Central rule in the state where, according to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, law and order was "shunya" (zero), he predicted more desertions.
His remarks were interpreted to mean that the Congress wants Central rule but only after the Mulayam government collapses on its own.
Following the RLD’s pull-out, Gehlot and other UP leaders called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi to brief her on the UP situation and other issues. Sonia’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel was also present. Before the meeting, Gehlot conferred with UPCC chief Salman Khurshid, Sanjay Singh and other state leaders.
AICC leaders are divided whether the Congress should go it alone and rebuild its organisation in the 403 Assembly seats or have a tie up with Ajit Singh and other smaller parties in the election portending of multi-cornered contests involving the SP, BSP, BJP and other smaller formations.
"It makes little sense to have an alliance unless the partner transfers its votes. Besides, Ajit Singh has lost credibility," said one such leader, without ruling out the possibility of an indirect understanding if the RLD ties up with VP Singh-backed Jan Morcha.
The Congress, meanwhile, has started preparing for the polls, with Rahul Gandhi believed to be keen that MPs who lost the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and some zonal in charges for UP contest the Assembly elections. Noor Bano, who is among the losers but is reportedly reluctant to contest the state polls, had an hour-long meeting with Gehlot who was busy assessing the impact of Ajit Singh’s action on the UP scene.
The RLD chief’s latest move is dubbed as "sheer opportunism" by his critics. "It is a diversionary tactics on his part to shift attention from the Kavita Rani case involving a jat leader of his party and to seek the Congress’ protection in the wake of corruption charges implicating another of his colleagues," said Satpal Malik, former union minister who contested against Ajit Singh in Baghpat on a BJP ticket.
With the UP election scene hotting up, the SP too has decided to take the battle into the Congress camp on the latter’s charge that the Noida serial killings were a reflection of the total collapse of law and order in UP.
On Wednesday, SP general secretary Amar Singh will go to Congress-ruled Assam where the Ulfa militants had killed Bihari migrants. He also plans to go to other Congress-ruled states to highlight the incidents of crime that have taken place there.