A furious Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose support has become crucial for the UPA government’s survival after ally DMK walked out, demanded his pound of flesh on Wednesday — the resignation of union minister Beni Prasad Verma, for allegedly making derogatory comments about him.
As the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj added fuel to fire by demanding Verma’s resignation in Lok Sabha, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi walked up to the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and was seen talking to him with folded hands. The gesture wasn’t lost on anyone — with the DMK pulling out its 18 MPs, the UPA desperately needs the SP’s 22 MPs, at least till elections in 2014.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his part, summoned Verma. The steel minister — Yadav’s one-time mentor and now one of his most vocal critics — is under fire for alleging that the UP strongman receives a “commission” for supporting the government, and that he has “terrorist links”.
Minutes after his meeting with the PM, Verma said, “I have not given any interview saying he (Yadav) extends support after taking commission. But if anybody’s sentiments are hurt, I express my regret.”
Gandhi, on her part, is said to have told Yadav it was Verma’s personal opinion and not that of the Congress, and requested him to give up his demand for the minister’s resignation.
Both explanations cut no ice with Yadav, who met Gandhi and Singh separately and told them Verma must go. He also said the SP parliamentary board would meet on Thursday to take a call on the issue. Yadav, sources said, would relent only if Verma tendered an apology in Parliament.
Giving the Congress more to think about, the SP chief walked up to the BJP benches and reiterated his stand.
Senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav said the Congress must introspect on why its allies were deserting it one after the other.
"Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow," he added cryptically. He also praised former prime minister AB Vajpayee and said the NDA government was "more cohesive" than the UPA.
However, the Congress leadership is unlikely to "succumb to outside pressure" and Verma is likely to keep his job.
The party would also find solace in UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's statement that SP support to the UPA would continue to keep communal forces at bay.
The Congress is banking on this communal-secular divide to keep the SP - and its UP counterpart, Mayawati's BSP - on its side till 2014. Like the SP, the BSP, with 21 Lok Sabha MPs, has pledged its support to the UPA to "contain" communal forces.