September 19, 2012 2:31:20 am
The steady decline of UPA 2 and the failure of the BJP to work as a responsible opposition party has once again led regional leaders to move towards a third front with the national election approaching in 2014. Such efforts are not new,as since the decline of single party dominance in the late 1980s,regional leaders in strong positions in their home states,with enough members in Parliament to give them a bargaining position,have made claims to Central government. The latest to stake his claim is Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party in the key state of Uttar Pradesh,who believes that with the defeat of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the assembly elections earlier this year,it is the SP that can now play a role at the Centre and hopes to become prime minister in 2014.
Mulayam Singhs strength in state and national politics comes from his participation in three political formations of national importance in UP: the socialists,led by Ram Manohar Lohia in the immediate post-Independence period based upon the middle castes; the agrarian lobby that formed the Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD)/ Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) under Charan Singh in the mid 1960s; and the landowning backward castes whose mobilisation took place simultaneously in the 1960s. It is the third group that today forms the main support-base of the SP. Following Charan Singhs death in 1987,the BKD/BLD split with the erstwhile socialists,regrouping under Mulayam Singh. During the late 1980s,UP experienced a second wave of backward caste mobilisation with the OBCs the Ahirs,Koeris and Kurmis entering politics in large numbers,making caste-based identity politics central. The SP formed in October 1992 by Mulayam Singh brought together old Lohiaite socialist groups,agrarian interests from the BKD/BLD,backward castes united by V. P. Singhs acceptance of the Mandal report and the Muslims opposing the BJPs Ram Mandir movement. The formation of this powerful BC/OBC party contributed to the rapid collapse of the Congress from 46 seats and 17.9 per cent vote share in the 1991 assembly elections to 28 seats and 15.11 per cent in 1993. The seat and vote share of the SP in assembly elections rose steadily from 34 seats and 12.5 per cent in 1991 to 224 seats and 29.15 per cent in 2007.
With the collapse of single party dominance by the 1990s,smaller parties such the SP became sought after allies in Central coalitions. Apart from the BJP-headed NDA,the SP has helped sustain most Central coalitions. In a highly fragmented Parliament,winning 35 seats in the 2004 and 23 seats in the 2009 national elections has given it considerable leverage,which helps explain its chequered relationship with UPA 1 and 2. Following the victory of the Congress in 2004 and 2009,despite having a substantial number of MPs and supporting the 2008 trust vote,Mulayam has often complained that the UPA leadership has not paid him adequate attention. Consequently,whenever the ruling coalition has shown signs of weakness or faced a difficult decision,he has threatened to withdraw support,hobnobbing with parties such as the Trinamool Congress during the presidential elections,the Left parties to oppose FDI in retail or the BJP in Parliament during the recent confrontation on coal block allocations.
At the same time,the SP suffers from internal weaknesses. Despite the Mandal agitation,Mulayam has failed to unite all sections of the backward castes,who consist of disparate sub-castes also divided along class lines,into a disciplined party. This created sharp rivalry among various sections such as the Yadavs,Kurmis and Koeris,and between them and the Jats in the 1990s when rapid mobilisation occurred,dividing them among many parties. In the 2000s,with the final break-up of the backward-caste movement and the socialist ideology,and the simultaneous unravelling of backward caste identity in north India,it was the BSP that was able to create a winning coalition in 2007.
Having achieved an unexpected majority in the 2012 assembly elections,Mulayam now feels that with his home base secure under his son Akhilesh Yadav,he can make a bid to become PM. A number of factors could work against him. Within months of winning,the SP government has run into a host of problems: there is considerable deterioration in the law and order situation with communal rioting on at least five occasions; administrative performance is poor with a large number of transfers taking place; and the distribution of laptops in a state that has low literacy and educational attainment has faced criticism. While Akhilesh has a good image and ideas that helped win the election,he does not seem to be in control of the party,with family members constantly interfering. Nor does the victory signal the coming together of the backward castes. The SP remains a party of the Yadavs and will have to strengthen its support base to retain its hold on the state. All this points to the weakening of Mulayams home turf,which will not help him in his bid for power at the national level. Moreover,at the national level,only the Left parties may support him. Others are rivals.
Perhaps aware of these problems,Mulayam,while announcing his desire to become PM,has postponed the formation of the third front to after the 2014 general elections. There are indications that he will not withdraw support from the UPA,which just announced a slew of much-needed economic reforms endorsed by a middle class keen to return to higher growth. He is keeping his options with the UPA open,aware that it could negotiate support from Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee. In sum,statements of withdrawal or formation of new fronts by regional allies seem largely to be blackmail and posturing to shape politics and policymaking at the national level. Mulayam will remain a formidable leader in UP,but his attempt to climb to the national level is fraught with considerable difficulties.
The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies and rector at Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi
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