The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayavati courts rebels for House test

Lucknow, Jan. 5: The political temperature in Uttar Pradesh has started rising with Mayavati’s coalition government and its rebels beginning to marshal resources for an imminent battle during the budget session.

The BJP has claimed that most rebels have returned after a meeting between BJP legislature party leader Lalji Tandon and BJP Bachao Samiti convener Ganga Bhakt Singh. Chief minister Mayavati extended them an olive branch at a luncheon hosted for ruling coalition MLAs.

The Samajwadi Party, buoyed by a positive shift in the Congress stand, however, predicted the fall of the state government on the first day it faced the Assembly. “Now that the Congress is amenable to our efforts to form a secular government, Mayavati’s days are numbered,” Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said over telephone from Agra.

The battlelines, however, are still blurred because the BJP leadership has, so far, refused to accommodate three of its 10 rebel MLAs who urged the Uttar Pradesh Governor two months ago to make Mayavati prove her majority.

Rebel leader Ganga Bhakt Singh — who posed for photographs with a beaming Tandon today — sounded tentative. “We had never left the party. We were only asking for steps to strengthen it. We are happy that the (party) central leadership has now initiated the exercise,” he said after a meeting with Tandon.

On the fate of the three rebels Tandon described as “untouchable” and the state’s persecution of Independents, including Raja Bhaiyya and Dhananjay Singh, he said: “Talks have started. We will see what transpires.”

Ganga Bhakt Singh was also present at Mayavati’s lunch, where the chief minister attempted to placate the rebels who had turned up.

Tandon hinted that a package deal to pacify the rebels was on the cards. While thanking Ganga Bhakt Singh for showing “magnanimity by forgiving me for the mistakes committed unknowingly by me”, he talked of “another Cabinet expansion in the near future”.

Even if the seven rebels vote for the government on its day of reckoning, the likely outcome remains hazy. That day cannot be put off as the Assembly would have to be summoned before March 16 and the budget passed before the end of the month.

During the last Uttar Pradesh legislative council elections, the ruling coalition could muster only 184 votes against the Opposition’s 194. The return of seven BJP rebels would now raise the coalition’s tally to 191. But the Opposition’s loss would be more than compensated if the 23 Congress MLAs who had boycotted that election cast their votes against the government in March.

The trouble-shooters from both sides have now stepped up their efforts to poach from the other’s camp. “The posturing by BJP rebels is to thwart its leadership’s petition to the Uttar Pradesh Speaker to disqualify them from party membership,” a Samajwadi leader said. “Once the petition is withdrawn, they will show their true colour.”

The BJP has petitioned Speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi to disqualify the 10 rebels. The BSP, too, has approached Tripathi for its lone rebel’s disqualification. The Speaker has indicated that the judgement would be pronounced soon.

Mayavati, knowing she is walking a tightrope, is also trying to split the 23-member Congress legislature party. AICC secretary Subodh Kant Sahay —camping in Lucknow to prevent poaching — said as much. “She is using the bureaucracy to entice some of our MLAs,” he said.

Mayavati, however, accused some bureaucrats of using the same ploy against her coalition.

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