The Samajwadi Party is all set to make a dramatic U-turn. Mulayam Singh Yadav is ready to dump the United National Progressive Alliance, to break his longstanding fraternal ties with the Left parties, and cozy up to Congress, which he had always characterized as a political enemy. Why?
Mulayam’s turnaround is all the more suprising given the widespread perception that Muslims — one the mainstays of the SP’s support in Uttar Pradesh — are opposed to the nuclear deal. Muslims, goes the reasoning, are dead against the US and President George W Bush for their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why has Mulayam suddenly become so impervious to Muslim sentiment?
In fact, the perception is mistaken. UP Muslims may share their worldwide ummah’s antipathy for Bush, but many of them also believe they have an enemy closer home they need to hold at bay much more urgently — the BJP and its Sangh associates.
The only party capable of doing that at the central level is the Congress — with the help of allies. If the same party chooses to establish closer ties than ever before with the US, the Muslims may consider it unfortunate, but they would certainly not want, just for this reason, to see the Congress voted out and the NDA back in power. If the SP can help the Congress out in the present scenario — with the Left about to withdraw support — the majority of Muslims are all for it doing so.
Among spokesmen of the Muslim community, opinion is strongly divided. On Wednesday, a group of Muslim clerics met UP Chief Minister Mayawati to “welcome” her opposition to the nuclear deal. Lucknow Idgah’s naib imam, Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahli, told Hindustan Times any party supporting the nuclear deal would be opposed in the state.
But these are not the only voices. Last Sunday a group of 50 Muslim intellectuals invited the SP working president and Mulayam’s brother, Shiv Pal Singh Yadav, to emphasise that an electoral alliance with the Congress was essential for the SP. “The most important thing is to form a secular front including the Congress, to fight communal forces in the state,” said former DGP SM Nasim, who organized the meet. “The nuclear deal is much lower in the Muslims’ priority list.”
Added well-known Lucknow businessman and social worker Maroof Khan, “The nuclear deal is not a Muslim issue. It is an energy issue involving the interests of the country.”
Apart from the Centre, the political scenario in UP too has changed. A bigger and more bitter rival to the SP than the Congress is in power — the BSP. With a friendly government at the Centre, Mulayam knows he would be in a stronger position to contest the Lok Sabha elections if indeed they are held soon. The SP won 26 per cent of the votes in the 2007 assembly polls, while the Congress, despite its poor seat tally, pulled in another 12 per cent. Together, they can make an unbeatable combination, considering the BSP won just 30 per cent of the votes and Mayawati has made it clear she will not ally with the BJP.