The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong gives Mulayam a long rope
- Rooftop rider in public glare

April 23: The Congress is shaping its strategy centring around Mulayam Singh Yadav for the coming rounds of election and beyond with exit polls having cast a cloud of uncertainty over the BJP-led alliance’s prospects of getting to the majority mark.

In the past 48 hours, the high command has signalled to the Left to work on Mulayam Singh to ensure the Samajwadi Party does not join the enemy camp. Sonia Gandhi has also reined in some of her lieutenants, telling them not to go all out against the Samajwadi following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s remark on the possibility of post-poll political realignments.

Vajpayee gave such an indication yesterday. If the NDA is short of the 273 majority mark by over 10 seats, for instance, it will need a substantial chunk of support from outside. Mulayam Singh is certainly one of the handful who can offer that crutch.

Keeping the possibility in mind — and rumours of a deal between the BJP and Mulayam Singh have been around for some time — the Congress does not wish to do anything that would push the Samajwadi leader towards the BJP.

“The Congress does not want to give the Samajwadi Party an excuse to say that we have divided the secular vote bank,” said spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, explaining why it is not withdrawing support to the Mulayam Singh government in Uttar Pradesh.

It will not take that step until Mulayam officially aligns with the BJP. Simultaneously, however, the Congress will turn up pressure on him, using his professed commitment to secularism as the weapon. As part of that, Sonia yesterday accused him of being hand in glove with the BJP, a charge that will not go down well with his minority constituency. Vajpayee has already confused the minorities with the comment that the BJP and the Samajwadi are “ideologically close”, a remark that left Mulayam Singh flinching.

Defence minister George Fernandes poured more fuel in the fire of speculation by saying today there are “very few differences of opinion” between Mulayam Singh and Vajpayee. “He is an old friend and I want him to join the NDA.”

These overtures to Mulayam Singh have stung the Congress, as it only confirms its worst fears.

“The Prime Minister has spoken of a possible realignment of forces after the elections. We want to ask him if this is his SOS to both existing NDA partners and possible new entrants,” Singhvi said. “Who does the Prime Minister have in mind' Is it the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or some other party'” he asked.

The trouble for Mulayam Singh is that the BJP and the Congress know his weak point is the fear of losing minority votes, and both are playing on it.

Sonia is getting feedback that Mulayam Singh’s strong hold on the minorities is turning shaky, but she is not dropping him because the Samajwadi’s loss could be the BJP’s gain in the fragile caste and community-based electoral arithmetic of UP.

Mulayam Singh’s strong point, however, is that if the exit poll results hold good, he can be Draupadi in a swayamvar sabha with the two large alliances courting him.

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