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UP goes down on national stage

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
May 15, 2004 10:52 IST
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Uttar Pradesh has traditionally dictated which party will rule New Delhi. And even now, it is likely that the next prime minister will be from the state.

But UP, with its 80 seats in the Lok Sabha (the highest from any one state) is no longer the nation's kingmaker.

In the lead-up to the counting, when pollsters predicted a hung Parliament, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav nursed ambitions of playing kingmaker, reckoning that if he could haul in a sizeable number of seats, he could play the savior's role in the climate of uncertainty. "No government formation will be possible at the centre without the participation of the Samajwadi Party," he had proclaimed.

The first part of the plan worked, when the Samajwadi Party won 38 of the 80 seats (including the three claimed by its ally the Rashtriya Lok Dal), thanks largely to his success at retaining the Muslim vote bank against all odds. But in the final analysis, Mulayam sees himself reduced to irrelevance – the Congress-led alliance, which will form the next government, does not need to shop for support from him.

Further underlining UP's growing irrelevance on the national stage is that none of the other parties stood to gain substantially from the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party saw its quota slip from 29, in 1999, to a mere 11 despite the presence in the campaign of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Kalyan Singh factor. The Congress ran the BJP close, pulling in nine seats.

That leaves Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which actually increased its share from 14 seats in 1999 to 19 seats now – but still finds itself rendered politically irrelevant.

In the existing scenario, the two regional satraps – Mulayam and Mayawati – are reduced to making desperate moves to join the Congress-led coalition, rather than sit back and let the Congress come begging for support.

Of the two, Mayawati is clearly the more desperate. Even before the results were fully in, she made a suo moto declaration that she was prepared to offer unconditional support for a Sonia Gandhi-led government. Getting the words out must have been tough – before the elections, Mayawati had contemptuously spurned Congress moves for an alliance.

Mulayam was more discreet about his keenness to join forces with the party he had earlier rejected. Outwardly, he has sought to portray the image of a man with no ambitions at the national level; however, backstage, he has been using his industrialist friends, and his old comrade, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, to intercede with the Congress and get him a collaborator's slot.

Within the Congress, opinion is divided on the wisdom of taking on Mayawati and/or Mulayam as partners. Though Mulayam supporters within the Congress argue that the party should strike up an alliance with him in order to 'further strengthen the secular forces', the majority view is that both the BSP and the SP are undependable, and therefore best kept at a distance.

There is, further, a political reason for avoiding any truck with the two regional parties, most especially with the SP chief. "If we were to join hands with Mulayam, it will arrest the Congress party's growth in UP, because after all, the SP has all along been eating into the Congress party's traditional support base."


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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow