Much has been made out of Mulayam Singh’s presence at the PM’s dinner to mark UPA-2’s third anniversary. It is not accurate to read the SP chief’s attendance as an indication of his joining the coalition. He supports the government from outside and there doesn’t seem to be any pressing reason for him to join the UPA and, therefore, limit his options.
Mulayam himself tried to correct the impression that he was on his way to joining the UPA. “They have given us respect,” he said. It was precisely that.
If Mulayam was on the dais and at the high table with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, it was but natural. His party’s spectacular victory in the UP election has enhanced his political status.
The UPA chairperson and the PM understood it very well that he had to be accorded special status — given that his party heads the government in the country’s largest state, that he gives unconditional support to the UPA from outside and that his partnership could make all the difference during the Presidential election.
There is also another way of looking at Mulayam’s political agenda. His party got over 225 seats in the UP polls. He has 22 MPs in Lok Sabha. He will certainly be tempted to increase his tally to over 50 if circumstances permit him to do so. These circumstances can arise only if the government falls.
With the BJP being seen at times as the government’s saviour, Mulayam will wait for an eventuality when he can seize the initiative. This initiative could be his during or soon after the Presidential polls.
The talk that he was going to bail out the UPA if Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress pulls out is illogical. Even Mamata will want to be a major player at the Centre and increase her tally from 18 to over 30. Jayalalithaa will certainly be tempted as well to marginalise the DMK further in Tamil Nadu. All of them, in other words, may benefit if early elections take place. The regional players will need each other so one of them can get elevated as PM when the next election takes place.
The other dimension to the entire episode is that does Congress trust Mulayam? In 1999, he let Gandhi down when she quoted 272 as the number to denote her party’s support in Lok Sabha shortly after the AB Vajpayee government was voted out of power by one vote.
In other words, let us not read too much in Mulayam’s presence. It was politics at its deceptive best. A lot more will follow.