What can be said about the apology extended by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh to Muslims on his having joined hands, just ahead of 2009 parliamentary polls, with “people who were responsible for the demolition of Babari mosque”? Whether the apology is described as rhetoric, a political stunt or a genuine one, it has naturally been pronounced to hopefully secure return of Muslim leaders and voters, who had parted company with Mulayam Singh soon after he reached a political understanding with Kalyan Singh. The latter was Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and an active member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when Babari Masjid was demolished on 6 December, 1992.
When Mulayam Singh decided to reach an agreement with Kalyan Singh in 2009, he had apparently overestimated the political importance of the latter. He had also taken the risk of joining hands with him at the cost of losing Muslim supporters. Against the 38 Lok Sabha seats SP had in the 14th Lok Sabha, it won only 22 in 2009 elections to the 15th Lok Sabha. Now, after he has apologized to the Muslims for committing this mistake, should all who had parted company with him, be expected to return back to his party?
Undeniably, his “apology” has opened the option for Muslims to consider supporting him. But in politics, changes can take place any minute. The decision taken by Mulayam Singh to shake hands with Kalyan Singh and later part company with him, is a part of the same political jugglery. There is, however, no denying that a considerable section of Muslim leaders were shocked at Mulayam Singh’s decision to align with Kalyan Singh. This refers particularly to Muslim leaders who were then considered as important SP members. A significant member of these leaders displayed their displeasure by leaving SP. With Uttar Pradesh assembly polls around in two years from now, Mulayam Singh is definitely keen to have his old Muslim members back in his political camp.
Mulayam Singh had turned towards Kalyan Singh, apparently to cut into the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader Mayawati’s Dalit-base in 2009 parliamentary polls. The political gamble failed. He is, however, hopeful that after his “apology,” he will succeed in weakening base among the Muslims of his rival parties, the BSP as well as the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. At present, SP does not have a single Muslim member in Lok Sabha from UP. Both the Congress and BSP have more than a couple Muslim members each from UP. It is certainly not going to be an easy task for Mulayam Singh to gain political mileage with Muslim support where these Muslim legislators may be expected to campaign actively for their respective parties during the assembly polls.
Of course, the SP leader has made the going tough for himself by having earlier aligned with Kalyan Singh. His primary concern then apparently was spoiling chances of BSP’s performance in 2009 polls. But by miscalculating the reaction from his party’s Muslim leaders, Mulayam Singh erred seriously.
The Congress and BJP are as keen as Mulayam Singh to turn the political tide in UP in their own favour. On its part, the BSP is no mood to relinquish its hold on power strings in UP. Each and every effort made by Mulayam Singh to win over UP’s Muslim vote is naturally going to be countered strongly by both Congress and BSP. His “apology” may give the two parties further ground to question Mulayam Singh’s political strategy and commitment. The situation may have been different had there prevailed strong prospects of BJP performing well in UP assembly polls. The BJP itself is not oblivious of this fact. This is suggested by BJP planning not to use Ayodhya issue as its campaign-card. Dismal performance from UP in 2009 Lok Sabha polls has probably compelled BJP to realize that the Indian voter is not likely to be taken for a ride by its attempts to arouse communal passions by using the religious card.
Where Congress is concerned, the party is expected to make extra-efforts to try and turn the UP assembly polls in its favour. The party has star campaigners and crowd pullers in its camp. For instance, winning the Lok Sabha seat from Moradabad appears to have been an easy task for the first-time legislator Mohammad Azharuddin. Can he create similar waves in his party’s favour while campaigning for the assembly polls? Undeniably, Rahul Gandhi has now and then moved around in some places in UP, apart from his own constituency. He has received considerable media coverage. But then sheer publicity cannot be regarded as appropriate indicator of the votes that he can actually gather during UP assembly polls. Against this backdrop, Mulayam Singh had no option but to tender his “apology” to start putting his house in order in preparation for the UP assembly polls. But it is as yet too early to even presume that this “apology” will help him regain the lost Muslim base. A tough political battle lies ahead in UP for all in the fray!