Mulayam Singh has never been a reliable ally.
Chandra Shekhar was one of his mentors. But when it came to choosing a prime minister on that fateful day in Central Hall, Mulayam Singh backed V P Singh. When he couldn’t get along with V P Singh, he dumped him; the pretext being that V P Singh was negotiating with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) behind his back. He was then chief minister of UP. Then, he made common cause with Chandra Shekhar. And how did he describe the relationship? He told his biographers: “Ham to experiment kar rahe hain. VP ko dekh liya ab Chandra Shekhar ki bari hai. Baat bahut saaf hai: jis taraf Mulayam rahega wohi mazboot ho jayega” (I am experimenting. I have seen VP; now it is Chandra Shekhar’s turn. Whoever Mulayam aligns with will become strong).
That didn’t last long. In 1999, after the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Mulayam Singh told the Congress he would support it. On the strength of that assurance, Sonia Gandhi announced she had 272 MPs. Then he backed out.
In 2002, the SP was part of the People’s Front, a coalition of non-Congress and non-BJP political parties. A P J Abdul Kalam’s name was floated by the then BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. The Left parties opposed Kalam and decided to field Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, a veteran freedom fighter from the Indian National Army. However, the SP parted ways with the People’s Front at the eleventh hour and supported Kalam’s candidature. Though Left parties accused Mulayam Singh of betrayal, the SP chief got political mileage by supporting a “Muslim” for the post of president.
The Left overlooked that. But the last straw was in July 2008, when Mulayam Singh abandoned the Left and other third-front parties to back the Congress on the Indo-US nuclear deal. And when support to the Congress continued, former colleague Amar Singh, who was then party general secretary, said Mulayam Singh got him to sign the letter of support to the Congress (that is with the president of India) because he wanted an insurance policy — if he decided to pull out from the arrangement, he could always say it was not his signature on the letter but that of a party functionary who was no longer in the SP.
Now the Left parties and Mulayam Singh Yadav are holding talks to come together again, amid Mulayam's own apprehensions that his party will have a disastrous showing in the Lok Sabha elections. He has already distanced himself from his son Akhilesh's government – 'don't judge me on the basis of Akhilesh's performance', he is reported to have said to his lieutenants in Lucknow recently. The riots in Muzaffarnagar are yet to come to a close. And the BJP is striding through UP, basing itself on the failures of the SP's administration.
Little wonder then that Mulayam Singh Yadav is eyeing the Left parties again. The Left, a glutton for punishment, is also happy to tie up with him, despite Muzaffarnagar. The question is – will all this lead to anything?