Mamata speaks to reporters after the evening meeting with Mulayam on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, June 14: Mamata Banerjee declared A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s candidacy with alacrity. But her ally Mulayam Singh Yadav was apparently treading cautiously and weighing the pros and cons before committing his support.
“Please don’t ask for details on anything today. Whatever I have to say, I will say elaborately tomorrow. You know I am not a secretive person but today nothing please,” Mulayam told The Telegraph this evening.
A Samajwadi source close to Mulayam said he was upset with Mamata for jumping the gun on Kalam because the former President has said he is willing only if a broad consensus emerges on his candidature. Mulayam feels they will look foolish if they announce Kalam’s name and he backs out.
Mulayam’s refusal to commit his endorsement of Kalam — who incidentally the Samajwadi Party claimed to have sponsored in the 2003 presidential election and for whom he secured the BJP-NDA’s backing — cranked the capital’s rumour mills to an overdrive.
Given Mulayam’s perceived propensity to make and unmake political deals, Congress sympathisers viewed his “circumspection” as an opportunity to make him break ranks with Mamata and support the UPA’s nominee.
Samajwadi’s Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agrawal flew to Delhi this evening. His arrival gave grist to the speculation that he was “put up” by the Congress to induce a rethink in Mulayam. Agrawal, a former Congress MLA from Uttar Pradesh, is close to the Congress’s junior minister Rajiv Shukla. They were both part of the defunct Loktantrik Congress Party.
Although Shukla has a long association with Mulayam, Agrawal came in handy when the Samajwadi chieftain was asked to share a platform with the UPA on its eighth anniversary in April.
“There are several important issues to be discussed,” Agrawal told this correspondent before entering Mulayam’s residence.
Mulayam’s other Rajya Sabha member, Kiranmoy Nanda who cemented the tie-up with Mamata, returned to Calcutta and absented himself from the scene of action. Nanda is, however, flying back to Delhi tomorrow.
Samajwadi sources said before pledging their support to Kalam, they were weighing the following factors:
The announcement of the UPA’s candidate. On Pranab Mukherjee too, the party sounded less strident than the Trinamul Congress. “We have not rejected Mukherjee’s candidacy. We said he is not acceptable to us. There’s a nuanced difference in the articulation,” said Samajwadi general secretary Ramgopal Yadav.
Whether saying that Mukherjee was “not acceptable” because he was a Congress nominee was a good enough explanation for charting a different path from the UPA. “We have to adduce strong political reasons for breaking away from the UPA and looking independently at other candidates,” a source said.
He wondered if Ramgopal’s argument that while Sonia took care to consult a smaller Uttar Pradesh party like the Rashtriya Lok Dal “several times” on the presidential poll, she had not heeded a far larger entity like the Samajwadi would wash in a larger debate. “How many times was our ‘Netaji’ (Mulayam) called? Is Sonia taking him for granted?” a source close to Ramgopal said.
The prospect of the BJP and the NDA rooting for Kalam. The NDA is meeting at L.K. Advani’s residence on Friday morning. However, Advani’s meeting with Jayalalithaa in Chennai today generated the buzz that the talks would have been on a consensus over Kalam. If the BJP came on board, Samajwadi sources feared that the association might put off their Muslim voters, especially if the Congress made it a talking point.
“We have not forgotten that Kalyan Singh’s pact with Mulayam (in the 2009 elections) alienated our minority voters from us,” a source said.
If the Samajwadi went along, forced a contest, precipitated the UPA’s downfall and brought an early election, would the party want to face the flak for dethroning a “secular” dispensation? “It’s a serious point which we need to ponder over. Especially when the economy’s not in good shape and there are challenges,” a source said.
Last, Mulayam, a source claimed, was “not convinced” about the viability of putting together a “third front” although there is enormous pressure from the Samajwadi’s rank and file to use the perceived popular disenchantment against the Congress and the BJP’s supposed inability to step on the plate as an opportunity to project himself as a “national challenger” to both.
“He’s older and wiser today and consequently risk-averse,” a source said.
Sources said a “clearer” picture on the durability of the Mulayam-Mamata pact and their intention to contest independent of the UPA would emerge on Friday. Sonia is slated to meet them separately tomorrow.