The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayavati takes numbers battle to rival camp

Lucknow, June 14: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati today said the threat by Opposition parties to take their fight against her to the people amounted to an admission that “they have lost the numbers game”.

But as claims and counter-claims flew thick and fast, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader showed she was ready to take the battle to the rival camp. The chief minister claimed that several legislators from the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and even Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, which recently quit the coalition, had approached her.

“My government enjoys majority even without the RLD’s 14 MLAs and I am not interested in splitting other parties. But if some MLAs are disgruntled and want to join us, they are more than welcome,” she said at her first press conference since her return from a 17-day foreign tour.

The indication was clear: the next few weeks could see intense horsetrading, a possibility that has forced Ajit Singh to keep shifting his flock from place to place.

While Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his band was her main target, Mayavati ridiculed Ajit Singh for “hiding” his MLAs. She did not spare the Congress either.

Mayavati claimed that 25 Samajwadi legislators had approached her during the Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion in March. “They told me they were prepared to forego their memberships because they could contest and win again as BSP candidates,” she said.

Her claim did not cause a flutter in the Samajwadi camp, but it seemed to make an already broken Congress legislature party nervous, though CLP leader Pramod Tewari did not show it.

“Realising that their days are numbered, the leaders of the ruling coalition are spreading false rumours about a second split in the Congress,” Tewari said.

Reliable Congress sources, however, did not dismiss prospects of a second split in the party.

“We have reports that transport minister Naseemuddin Siddqui and parliamentary affairs minister Sukhdev Rajbhar have been hobnobbing with some Congress MLAs. And they might go if the price is right,” said a senior state unit functionary.

Independent observers feel that though the politically volatile situation has made all parties susceptible to poaching, the Congress runs a graver risk than either the Samajwadi or the RLD.

Last February, eight MLAs walked out to form a separate group, the Akhil Bharatiya Congress Dal (ABCD). Within days, seven of these MLAs joined the BSP and were accommodated in the ministry.

The reduced strength of the Congress makes things easier for Mayavati.

The party’s strength in the Assembly now stands at 16 and Mayavati will have to lure away only six for a legally valid split.

“We have identified at least eight MLAs who were fence-sitters when the Congress last split. They have indicated that they are open to negotiations. If Bahenji agrees to their terms, they are ready to switch sides,” claimed a senior BSP leader.

BSP sources said Mayavati had given a green signal to clinch the deal and had asked her ministers with Congress background to lend a hand in negotiations.

"Causing another split in the Congress will serve her long-term political goal much better than working on a split in the RLD. For what she fears the most is an SP-Congress tie up against the BSP-BJP combine in the next round of elections," the BSP leader said.

She needs support of at least 47 MLAs to split the 142-member Samajwadi without attracting the anti-defection law. And despite her claims, she is no where near the required minimum.

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