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Behind common cause,two similar grumbles and one high ambition

Why Mulayam is miffed enough with Congress to have teamed up with Mamata

Mulayam Singh Yadav is miffed with the Congress. This is in spite of the fact that the Congress did not put up a candidate against his daughter-in-law Dimple in the Kannauj Lok Sabha byelection,helping her win without a contest.

Although Mulayam has not spelt it out,his grievance is similar to that of Mamata Banerjee,with whom he has made common cause to embarrass the Congress by rejecting its choice of candidates for the presidential election. If Mamata wants the Manmohan Singh government to give a financial package to Bengal,Mulayam and his Samajwadi Party want a package of Rs 97,000 crore for development in Uttar Pradesh.

Akhilesh Yadav had met the Prime Minister and made the request barely a month after taking over as chief minister of UP. Since then,SP leaders,including Mulayam himself,have reminded Congress leaders about the state’s financial needs,but the response has reportedly been far from encouraging.

For Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee,the difficulties are obvious. The Centre’s own finances are struggling amid low overall economic growth,high inflation,a sliding rupee,and widening trade and fiscal deficits. Even if it finds some way to help Bengal and UP,how could they say no to other states? But such arguments are lost on Mamata and Mulayam.

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For Mulayam,the Rs 97,000 crore package is vital to the fulfilment of his dream of becoming prime minister. At 73,he may be at the fag end of his political career and,therefore,the next Lok Sabha election offers him a last chance. Ever since he put his son in the UP chief minister’s chair,SP men have been talking of 2014 and making Mulayam prime minister.

The SP’s calculation is that the Congress,thanks to its sheer misgovernance and the stink of corruption around it,is on a downhill slide,that it does not know how to keep its allies together. The BJP is disorganised and its top leaders are squabbling. In any case,if it projects Narendra Modi as the next leader,many of its allies will leave the NDA. Therefore,the election may throw up a hung Lok Sabha in which regional parties will wield the real power. In such a scenario,whoever has the maximum MPs will be the PM. UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats. The argument is that if the SP can carry the momentum of the Assembly elections into the Lok Sabha elections,then Mulayam has a real chance of becoming PM.

The SP gameplan is to sustain the Akhilesh government’s goodwill until the Lok Sabha election. And it plans to do that by doling out freebies and entitlements at regular intervals. Free computers and laptops,or unemployment allowance,are only a small part of these. The SP manifesto promises big giveaways like a support price for agricultural produce at 50 per cent above the cost of production,and a loan waiver up to Rs 50,000 for farmers. Both Akhilesh and Mulayam have often stated that implementing the manifesto is their top priority.

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But the problem is these goodies will leave little money for developmental activity. A large part of the government income goes into sustaining itself. In the state’s budget of Rs 2 lakh crore,which Akhilesh presented to the Assembly on June 1,the plan size is only Rs 51,000 crore. In the coming years,the squeeze on the money available for developmental activity will only increase because the freebies and entitlements aren’t one-time gifts: their bill will increase every year with an increasing number of beneficiaries.

That is why UP needs the Centre to open its currency chest. And Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee’s reluctance to do this threatens to upset the the SP plan to make Mulayam PM in 2014.

Mulayam’s rejection of Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari serves many purposes. It puts the Congress in its place. It also gives him an opportunity to try and have a President of his choice who could be helpful in the post-2014 poll situation. And if the UPA government sinks,let it. For,that will mean an early elections and the SP still commands considerable goodwill in UP.

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Over the last few weeks,Mulayam has been telling his partymen to gear up for Lok Sabha elections,at some places even hinting that these may be held “before time”. Earlier this week,Akhilesh,while visiting Kannauj after Dimple’s unopposed victory,too told party workers to get ready for Lok Sabha elections. The SP has started the process of selecting candidates. Like the SP,Mamata too reportedly wants early elections.

First published on: 15-06-2012 at 12:27:53 am
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