Is it 'Goodbye Nitish Kumar, Hello BJP' for Mulayam Singh?
NEW DELHI: Samajwadi party leader Mulayam Singh has now decided to pull out of the opposition alliance stitched up last year by the Left and regional parties, and contest the Bihar elections alone. This has again renewed speculation in the political parties about his relationship with the Bharatiya Janata party, that has never really subsided since the Muzaffarnagar violence where thousands of Muslims were displaced while the Uttar Pradesh government looked the other way.
Significantly the Left, despite at least two major public rallies of which one was in Delhi of the alliance, has left it in favour of its own alliance in Bihar. The CPI(M) and CPI decided to join the CPI-ML that is bitterly opposed to JD(U) in Bihar as part of the decision taken to work together to strengthen the left in the country. Mulayam Singh who was heading that alliance has now split as well, preparing to field candidates in key constituencies in Bihar.
All political leaders, BJP included, agree that the Bihar elections are crucial in determining the next course for both the ruling party at the centre and the opposition. It is largely with this in mind that the RSS has fanned its cadres out in the state to polarise voters through a sustained campaign in the rural areas. It is also because of this that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has put together an alliance with even sworn rivals of the past like Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, to ensure there is no significant split in the anti-BJP vote. However, now this vote will have to choose between the Nitish Kumar led alliance that so far includes the RJD and the Congress; the Left alliance; the Samajwadi party; and of course the MIM and its leader Asaduddin Owaisi who is also contesting the Bihar elections.
The first signal that Mulayam Singh is not very keen to be part of a larger Opposition unity was visible in Parliament, when his party kept taking positions on issues that were independent of the Opposition consensus. The Samajwadi party did not always join the opposition in walk outs, and even on the Land Acquisition Bill was not as vocal as the other regional parties. When others were discussing joint strategy, Mulayam Singh was meeting the Lok Sabha Speaker on his own.
A certain reaching out by Singh to the BJP has been evident ever since the Samajwadi party was hit hard in Uttar Pradesh in the last Lok Sabha elections. Before that he was accused by political leaders, but more by activists, of working in tandem with the BJP in the Muzaffarnagar violence that was contained after inordinate delay, and where the Samajwadi party government did not bring relief to the affected persons. No one was arrested until there was a hue and cry by the Opposition parties, and the state police was accused by fact finding teams of being in line with the perpetrators of the violence. When questioned by Opposition colleagues, Mulayam Singh told them that his son Akhilesh Yadav was responsible, as his inexperience was in display during the violence. He insisted that the bureaucrats and the police were not listening to the state government, a grave charge that of course brought no succour to the victims of the violence.
Mulayam Singh has been working hard to build affinities, after the general elections last year where he was left with just five Lok Sabha seats, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. Reports of a meeting between Singh and UP Governor Ram Naik for “secret discussions” made the media rounds leading at one stage, earlier this year, to speculation that he was even thinking of supporting the NDA government in return for Cabinet portfolios at the centre. This, of course remained at the level of rumours with Singh not taking the plunge but continuing the flirtation with the BJP. The speculation that has never since stilled also arose from Singhs own remarks to a meeting of his party just before the last Lok Sabha polls where he is reported to have said, “"I had suggested senior BJP leaders to drop Ram Janambhoomi, Kashmir and anti-Muslim agenda. There will not be any difference with them if they do so.”
At a time when the Opposition was drawing a sharp line between itself and PM Modi, Singh broke with the others to invite the Prime Minister for the tilak ceremony of his grand nephew. PM Modi and Singh, according to observers at the time, seemed to share a special warmth with the former attending the marriage ceremony later at New Delhi as well. Singh has also been silent when asked the specific question whether his party will ally with the BJP in the UP Assembly elections due in 2017, just two years before the Lok Sabha polls. There is considerable speculation with the Samajwadi party itself about Singh’s political plans, and whether he will move towards the BJP at a faster pace as both elections approach.
In recent months Singh has been more critical of the Congress party than the BJP, and sources said he stayed away from the recent public meeting held by Kumar and attended by Lalu Prasad and Congress president Sonia Gandhi because of her presence. He has now pulled out of the alliance altogether maintaining that Kumar had neglected him. This comes after a sharp attack by PM Modi and the BJP on the JD(U) for hobnobbing with the Congress party that had imprisoned socialist leaders in the past, and had always stood against what individuals like Jai Prakash Narayan represented.
Singh drew closer to the BJP during his close friendship with Amar Singh, who exercised considerable influence over him. And as socialist leaders in the Samajwadi party said at the time to this writer, “introduced him to the glamour world, and took him away from his roots.” Singh has not fully returned since then, and is now worried about the erosion of his traditional Muslim-Yadav support base. This, sources said, could be a reason for looking at the BJP for a possible alliance in the next Assembly elections. Or conversely, a direct fight between the BJP and the Samajwadi party that has always polarised elections and helped one or the other swing the vote in the state.