In suspended animation

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

Mayawati's better man-management skills and Sonia Gandhi's stoic silence put paid to Mulayam Singh Yadav's hopes of forming a government in Uttar Pradesh - at least for now.

WOMAN power can prove unmatched. The pehelwan from Etawah, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, is learning this lesson the hard way, for he has offended in the past not one woman but two - Congress (I) president Sonia Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party vice-president Mayawati. They have ensured that despite the S.P. emerging as the single largest party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, he remains out of power.

The fractured electoral verdict delivered a hung Assembly, and it has been placed under suspended animation. President's Rule has been imposed in the State, which yet again faces the prospect of a traumatic and prolonged spell of political uncertainty. The claimants to power will try to form a government through any means, including horse-trading, splits and political manipulations, which seem to have become an integral part of politics in the State.

By the time all the results were out, it was obvious that the State was heading for Central rule. No party had a clear mandate and no two parties that were in a position to ally and form the government were willing to do so. But the speed with which Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri announced President's Rule, after hinting initially that he would wait until March 26, when the present Assembly ceases to exist, took everyone by surprise. To be fair, the Governor did speak to all parties concerned and arrived at his decision only after all the major players, except the Congress(I), had explained their positions to him in writing.

The Bharatiya Janata Party stood by its decision not to support any party to form the government and to sit in the Opposition. The BSP announced that it would not support a government led by either the S.P. or the BJP. The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh, which won 14 seats, also made it clear that having fought the elections as a partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it had no intention of supporting a government led by the S.P., which had staked its claim.

As a result, Mulayam Singh Yadav failed to submit a list of supporters to prove his majority as demanded by the Governor. Instead, he insisted that he should be allowed to prove his majority on the floor of the House within a month. The Governor, in view of the categorical positions of the parties concerned - including the Congress (I)'s eloquent silence - saw no reason to oblige Mulayam Singh, whose party had only 145 members in the 403-member House. He wrote in his report to the Centre that in his opinion no political party was in a position to command a majority and that President's Rule was the only option. The Union Cabinet gave its approval without delay and sent the proposal for presidential consent.

Mulayam Singh promptly dubbed the decision a BJP-sponsored conspiracy to keep him out of power and vowed to take the "injustice" to the people's court. He staged a dharna in front of the Raj Bhavan to register his protest. In a shocking coincidence, perhaps symbolising the state of affairs in Lucknow, an apparently mentally deranged youth shot dead an S.P. MLA, Manjoor Ahmad, from point-blank range at the venue of the dharna.

Mulayam Singh had specially honoured Sonia Gandhi at his Roza Iftaar and recently joined her at the house of Somnath Chatterjee, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, for a breakfast meeting. Against this backdrop he seemed to be taking for granted Congress support for his efforts. He hoped to take the strength of his group to the 170-175 range and expected the Congress(I) to provide the rest. But as things turned out, his own performance fell far short of his expectations, mainly because of the very good showing of the BSP, and he misjudged Sonia Gandhi's mood. Congress(I) leaders privately confessed that after he blocked her attempt to form the government at the Centre in 1998, there was no way she could have supported him in Lucknow.

"She has not forgotten how she cut a sorry figure after having claimed that she had the numbers," said a senior Congress(I) leader. Besides, in Sonia Gandhi's opinion, supporting Mulayam Singh would prove suicidal at this stage when the Congress(I) seemed to be improving its prospects in Uttar Pradesh. "We basically have our eyes on the next Lok Sabha elections, in which we hope to do well," said the leader.

But the Congress did not want to antagonise the minorities by publicly declaring that it would not support an S.P.-led government. Besides, say Congress(I) leaders, even if the party supported him he would still have required the help of another 32 MLAs, getting which seemed impossible. Sonia Gandhi apparently made it clear to S.P. general secretary Amar Singh that the Congress(I) would consider supporting Mulayam Singh only after he mustered the remaining numbers. "Let him first reach the figure of 175 then we will see," Sonia Gandhi is said to have told Amar Singh.

On her part, Mayawati has not forgiven Mulayam Singh for the June 2, 1995 incident at the State Guest House in Lucknow, in which Mulayam Singh's supporters gheraoed her and threatened her after the BSP withdrew from the S.P.-BSP government. She had alleged then that it was part of a conspiracy to molest and kill her. Uncharitable remarks made subsequently by Mulayam Singh only enraged her further. She took the matter to the National Women's Commission, which, however, acquitted Mulayam Singh for lack of evidence.

MAYAWATI not only fielded candidates in such a way that they damaged the prospects of the S.P. more than the BJP, but gave the Governor a written statement that she would not support a government led by either the S.P. or the BJP. She also kept her MLAs together through deft methods. After it became clear that no party was in a position to form the government, she called her MLAs to Delhi for a series of meetings and kept them in and around Delhi for several days. Besides, she asked each one of them if there was the possibility of a repeat of last time.

"All my MLAs said they would stay with me. In fact, some of them offered to get me MLAs from other parties," said Mayawati. She also explained to them that a government led by her was a stronger possibility after President Rule than one led by Mulayam Singh. "They apparently understood. Then I offered them tea and allowed them to return to Lucknow," she said. Thus Mulayam Singh's hopes of luring some of her four Yadav, 32 upper caste, 15 Muslim and 24 backward caste MLAs were thwarted, at least for the time being.

Her subsequent actions fuelled speculation about a realignment of political equations. She announced her resignation from the Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat, indicating that she intended to focus on government formation now and was hopeful of BJP support. "I am hopeful of forming the government in the next few weeks," she told Frontline. Obviously, negotiations are on between the BJP and the BSP.

Moreover, she has ruled out support from the S.P. or the Congress(I), leaving only the BJP, for which she displayed a rare soft corner at a press conference. Her refusal to criticise either the BJP or other Sangh Parivar members such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal for the communal conflagration in Gujarat and the volatile situation in Ayodhya strengthens this impression.

While all other Opposition parties have demanded a ban on the VHP and the Bajrang Dal and the resignation of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Mayawati refused to utter a word against them. This fuelled speculation that a BSP-BJP government was a possibility in the days to come, despite the BJP's claims that it would sit in the Opposition. Mayawati also made it clear that if there was a government in Uttar Pradesh, it would be led by her. "There can only be a government led by me. Otherwise there will be no government," she said categorically.

For Mulayam Singh, the race for chief ministership is as good as lost. Despite all the manipulative skills of Amar Singh he failed to do a Rajnath Singh for two reasons. First, with the BJP's Kesrinath Tripathi as Assembly Speaker, no attempt to split any party would succeed. Secondly, since the Assembly was not in session, unlike in 1997 when Rajnath Singh engineered splits to save the Kalyan Singh-led BJP government, it was difficult for him even to contact all MLAs. These, along with Mayawati's better man-management skills and Sonia Gandhi's stoic silence, made it nearly impossible for him to get out of the logjam. That the truth has dawned on Mulayam Singh as is clear from his announcement to take the "injustice" against him to the "people's court". The subsequent pronouncement by the Congress(I) that it would oppose in the Rajya Sabha the imposition of President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh did little to help Mulayam's cause.

The CPI(M) described the imposition of President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh as a mockery of the democratic process. The party said the S.P., the single largest party, should have been invited to form the government. In a statement, the party criticised the Governor, saying his action was borne out of his long association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a pracharak. "The man, who has written proudly about his participation in kar seva which finally led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, is making a mockery of the democratic process," the party said in a strongly worded reaction, demanding that the S.P. be invited to form the government.

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