M A I N   N E W S

Mulayam, Pawar posing problems for Congress
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
Two key players and both former defence ministers — Samajwadi Party’s Mulayum Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — are posing a major problem for the Congress as it gets down to the serious business of building a broad coalition of secular forces.

Given the antipathy of these two leaders to the Congress in general and its president Sonia Gandhi in particular, their reaction to her efforts at forging an anti-NDA alliance are understandable. Mr Yadav has spoken of going it alone or even reviving the third front while Mr Pawar has reacted positively to the BJP-Shiv Sena overtures, saying he is keeping his options open as nobody is untouchable in politics.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that the BJP is playing on this antipathy and has opened its channels of communication with these two leaders to stop them from joining hands with the Congress.

While admitting that the BJP is “fishing in troubled waters”, cynical Congress leaders also maintain that it is no coincidence that both these key players are former defence ministers. Defence Minister George Fernandes is learnt to be playing a pivotal role in keeping his predecessors from strenghtening the proposed alternate secular alliance. In fact, they are being lured into heading an alternate front, which could, if required, be given outside support by the BJP in a post-poll scenario.

Admitting that both these leaders are undependable, Congress insiders point to the fact that Mr Pawar and Mr Yadav have shied away from any debate on defence deals in Parliament and have generally been soft on Mr Fernandes. Their parties have not supported the Opposition boycott of the Defence Minister and have been pleading for an end to his ostracisation.

Mr Fernandes, on his part, has been drawing upon his proximity to Mr Yadav which goes back to their days in the Socialist fold. The Defence Minister was a surprise guest when Mr Yadav was sworn in as UP Chief Minister. Two days ago, the SP leader especially called on Mr Fernandes soon after his meeting with CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet.

Mr Fernandes is learnt to have dissuaded the SP leader from throwing his lot with the secular alliance being proposed by Sonia Gandhi. In fact, it was Mr Fernandes who had been pivotal in persuading Mr Yadav from not supporting Ms Gandhi’s candidature as Prime Minister when the Vajpayee government was defeated by one vote in 1998.

Given Mr Yadav’s unreliability, the Congress has turned to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for a possible poll tie-up in Uttar Pradesh. Political analysts maintain that such a pact would not only benefit the Congress in UP but also in other states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab Haryana, Delhi and Chhattisgarh where the BSP has a sizeable vote share.

However, Mr Pawar’s changed stance towards the BJP-Shiv Sena combine spells trouble for the Congress in Maharashtra where it will be left with no options if the NCP is to desert it. Congress insiders are not sure whether Mr Pawar is serious about a tie-up with the BJP or it is mere posturing before the two get down to hard bargaining on seat-sharing.


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