The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mulayam smacks lips, juggles laddoos

New Delhi, April 22: What is poison for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is meat — better still, laddoo — for Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Or, so the Samajwadi believes.

In the worst case scenario painted by the exit polls for the National Democratic Alliance, the party is hoping, not without basis, that Mulayam Singh will become the kingmaker.

“Mulayam Singh Yadav has laddoos in both his hands, either he is PM or he is DPM,” said a source close to the Samajwadi chief.

That may be setting hopes too high, but “laddoos in both hands” needs some explanation.

Just as Vajpayee’s coming to grief is good news for Mulayam Singh, so is Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s glee.

The exit polls show the Congress doing better, but only slightly and certainly not well enough to form a government even with its existing allies.

If it is within striking distance, Mulayam Singh becomes a big-league player.

Joining a secular camp with the Congress will fetch the Samajwadi more dividends. The Congress could make him deputy Prime Minister.

Moreover, Muslims will continue their support and he can keep his political space in Uttar Pradesh by containing the revival of the Congress. Muslims are giving Mulayam Singh a last chance to proclaim his commitment against communal politics.

On the other side, if the NDA falls short of the majority mark of 273, Vajpayee may need the support of Mulayam Singh for a fourth innings.

In the 13th Lok Sabha, Chandrababu Naidu, whose Telugu Desam Party had 29 seats, provided much-needed oxygen to the BJP-led government. But pollsters are predicting dwindling numbers for the Desam this time.

NDA sources said the Prime Minister had an inkling of things to come and that is why he spoke last week about the need to have a compact government instead of a 22-party coalition.

They said Vajpayee envisaged a coalition of five or six parties — apart from the BJP, the Samajwadi, the Desam, the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). He has even said the Samajwadi and the BJP are “ideologically closer”.

Asked if his party has any understanding with the Samajwadi, BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “SP or BSP, they are in direct fight with us. So there is no talk now.” He evaded a direct reply on the possibility of a post-poll truck, saying “let us see what the future holds”.

Indications are that as of now, while the BJP is poised to maintain its tally if not better it, its allies are doing badly everywhere; whereas the Congress allies are better placed than the Congress.

After the BJP, the Congress and the Left block, the Samajwadi is expected to bag the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats. Party managers claimed it would secure between 40 and 45 seats, all in Uttar Pradesh.

A third scenario, unlikely but not entirely ruled out by political analysts, is a third front government led by Mulayam Singh and backed by the Congress.

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