The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mulayam renews secular stamp

New Delhi, April 25: Even before the second phase of the elections is over, dealmaker Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the 87-year-old CPM general secretary, has taken the field, issuing old friend Mulayam Singh Yadav a desperately-needed secularism certificate.

Worried by statements made by the BJP, carrying post-poll alliance overtures to him, the Samajwadi Party chief rushed to the CPM, seeking a gesture that would reassure minority voters in Uttar Pradesh about his commitment to secularism on the eve of polling.

Surjeet, eager to hold Mulayam Singh in the anti-BJP camp, obliged in a give-and-take deal. While Mulayam Singh received the certificate he was looking for, he had to give an assurance he would not prop up an Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government if the National Democratic Alliance falls short of majority.

“In my recent meetings with Mulayam Singh Yadav and yesterday’s meeting with Amar Singh, both the leaders have categorically assured that the SP continues to remain committed to the anti-communal plank and in defence of secularism,” the CPM leader said in the statement.

Sources said Mulayam Singh has been in touch with Surjeet over phone and on Saturday, his lieutenant Amar Singh called on the CPM general secretary to assure him of the party’s commitment to secularism.

“In their interaction with me, both the leaders sought to dispel fears on this count and termed the propaganda launched by George Fernandes and other NDA leaders as deliberate and mischievous,” Surjeet said.

Describing assertions by Vajpayee and Fernandes as a “well-thought of strategy”, Amar Singh said they were trying to sow confusion among minorities, on whose votes the party has fed in its charge towards victory.

Much to Mulayam Singh’s discomfiture, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh today appealed to voters in Uttar Pradesh to elect the Congress. He suggested tactical voting by the minorities, saying they should back the Samajwadi or the Bahujan Samaj Party in seats where the Congress candidate was not strong enough.

The sources said there is a perceptible change in the minorities’ attitude to Mulayam Singh, who has been seen to be edging closer to the BJP since he became chief minister after the Mayavati government fell. Having burnt its finger twice by teaming up with Mayavati, the BJP had only Mulayam Singh as potential ally in a state where it cannot hope to win on its own.

Of more urgency is to ensure that if the NDA run freezes below the majority 273 mark — as many of the exit and opinion polls are suggesting, Vajpayee can explore the possibility of Mulayam Singh’s support.

The Samajwadi chief himself has been trying to dispel the impression of his being close to the BJP. In an interview to a television channel, he ruled out support to a BJP candidate for prime ministership, explaining that his party’s backing for a non-BJP candidate would be decided after the elections.

“We cannot support BJP. When we are ruling out support to that party, then there is no question of having a BJP candidate for the post with our support,” he said.

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