The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minority scare for Mulayam
- Atal inflicts wound, Sonia rubs salt

Lucknow, April 28: Kingmaker though he is being called, Mulayam Singh Yadav is often reduced to a pawn in games that are being played around him.

With the action almost completely concentrated in Uttar Pradesh — whether or not the BJP will hit the majority mark will largely be decided here — the Samajwadi Party leader is squirming over Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s smart moves suggesting he is an ally of Mulayam Singh.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, even as she raised the pitch of her attack on the BJP a few notches buoyed by exit poll projections, is adding to Mulayam Singh’s discomfort by also associating his name with the BJP.

Both ways, the Samajwadi Party stands to lose minority votes.

Campaigning today in Aligarh, Mulayam Singh asked: “When his (Vajpayee’s) own party is in crisis, how can he analyse the prospects of others'”

It was an allusion to the statement Vajpayee made yesterday. “I have come to know that this time Muslim voters would behave differently… I have been told that instead of the Samajwadi Party, the Muslims would vote for the Congress,” he said.

Vajpayee laced this with an appeal to the minorities not to desert the Samajwadi Party.

His tone of apparent sympathy sent shivers down the backs of the leadership. “The expression was cleverly designed to make it appear that the BJP was concerned over the loss of Muslim votes for the SP,” said a leader.

The Prime Minister has been doing this systematically. Earlier he had said the BJP and the Samajwadi Party were “ideologically close”.

In his current round of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, he has combined this show of ostensible friendliness towards the Samajwadi Party with attacks on the Congress with the same purpose of splitting minority votes.

“Which Congress do the Muslims want to turn to and depend on'” he asked. “Ek ke bad ek logon ko is ne chhora hai (this party has dumped one after another).”

The more he attacks the Congress and makes friendly gestures at Mulayam Singh, the greater the confusion in the minority mind about who to back — at least that is what Vajpayee is attempting. And the Samajwadi Party sees it that way too.

Alarmingly for the party, after the first round of elections in Uttar Pradesh, the exit polls show a rise in the Congress vote share.

Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh’s deputy, said the Prime Minister was making mischief. “Muslim votes are not going anywhere except to the Samajwadi Party,” he said.

At a meeting in Farrukhabad today, Vajpayee kept up the offensive against the Congress’ record in relation to minorities by referring to the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

Sonia’s counter-attack, which has acquired an edge after the exit polls, is seeking to exploit grievances about economic conditions, maybe because the India Shining campaign appears to have fallen flat in rural areas.

In the two neighbouring constituencies of Mohanlalganj and Sitapur in Lucknow division with a high percentage of Dalits and backward castes, Sonia hurled questions at the waiting farmers. Taking her eyes off the written speech, she asked: “Did you get a fair price for your crop' Did you get manure for your paddy'”

“No,” the gathering roared back.

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