The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mulayam turns to Maneka

New Delhi, Aug. 22: The Samajwadi Party is wooing Maneka Gandhi in a bid to expand its base in Uttar Pradesh.

Though the Gandhi bahu is not a political heavyweight, the former Union ministerís family tag has appealed to the Samajwadi, and specially so after the other bahu had snubbed party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav by not offering him Congress support to form the government in Uttar Pradesh after the February elections.

Even as the Samajwadi leadership, after a bout of Congress-bashing, is again trying to enlist Soniaís support in its renewed effort to topple the Mayavati-led government in Lucknow, sources said senior leaders have been talking to Maneka as well.

But the partyís local unit is miffed with the move. They are cautioning the central leaders that Maneka, dropped from the Union Cabinet last month, could at best be a decorative piece. She could not even launch her son Firoze Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit, her parliamentary constituency, said a party source.

Varun had campaigned for his motherís newly-launched Shakti Dal for the February elections, but his maiden campaign failed to enthuse voters. The party lost all the 14 Assembly seats it contested in and around Pilibhit district. Although she was in the NDA, Maneka defied the BJP and fielded the candidates. The BJP, in turn, had worked against her in many constituencies.

Apart from local resistance, sources said the Samajwadi leadership may go slow on the induction as it fears that the move may not be to the liking of Sonia.

Although Maneka has been winning the seat since 1989, barring 1991, Samajwadi rebels are of the view that Manekaís induction into the party will only alienate the people in Pilibhit.

Although she always contested as an independent, Maneka was always backed by one party or the other. In 1989, she was a Janata Dal candidate while in 1996, the Dal and the Samajwadi backed her. In 1998 and 1999, she was backed by the BJP.

Maneka is unlikely to get BJP support in the next election as the local saffron leaders are not keen on her, especially after she was unceremoniously thrown out of the Vajpayee government following a string of controversies.

For Maneka, given the fluid political situation, the Samajwadi is the best option. The BJP is doubtful. The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party are not interested, the JD (U) is not strong enough to help her win, said a Samajwadi source.

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