Monday, July 28, 2008

Another 3rd Front, they say, is in the making....

Another third front is in the making. The nucleus this time is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. The end game of this combination is to install Ms. Mayawati as India’s Prime Minister. The foundation for this formation were laid in the context of the confidence vote consequent to the decision by the Left parties to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government. We found all this written in the print media and discussed on private news channels during the couple of days before and after the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha On July 22, 2008. The Bangalore blasts and thereafter the blasts in Ahmedabad have led to a premature end to this discussion.

The mainstream media also talked about how Prakash Karat’s ego as well as that of Mayawati’s ambitions came together to bring about this front. And those of us who are used to watch what goes in the name of news in the 24 by 7 channels were sufficiently entertained by the reporters and the experts there when they went about thrusting the microphones into the mouth of every opposition leader of insignificance wanting to know if they supported Mayawati as Prime Minister. Chandrababu Naidu, Chandrasekara Rao and H.D.Deve Gowda were those leaders who were held significant by these journalists and their opinions about Mayawati as Prime Ministers made news stories! And so were Om Prakash Chautala and Ajit Singh!

Well. All these were important leaders who had impacted national politics at some point in the past. And it is possible that they may re-emerge as leaders with clout in the future too. There is no way one can write off any political party or leader given the dynamics of our political discourse. But then, there was abundant absurdity in the manner in which this third front was discussed by the media during the week when the confidence vote was taken by the Lok Sabha. The Left and the BSP add up to only 77 MPs in this House; and the others who gathered around them such as the TDP, TRS, JD(S), RLD and INLD can at best add only less than a dozen MPs to the front. In other words, all these parties put together were adding up to less than 100 MPs in a House of 541 and the media began constructing tales of a front in the making and anointed Mayawati as Prime Minister.

That was absurd to say the least. And it was baffling and even strange that any one of the leaders, including Mayawati, did not find it prudent to call the media professionals what they were in doing what they did. Well. The media professionals simply went about displaying their lack of common sense and at some level a kind of idiocy emerging out of a false sense of arrogance. There was a vulgar design behind this too. The media managed to construct the spectre of a Dalit as India’s Prime Minister in the process and provoke a reaction, from among the middle classess, against this. All this was done by deliberately pushing, some of the real basis to the realignment of forces, under the carpet.

Take for instance the fact that barring the Left parties, none of the others in this combination were definite about their attitude to the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. The TRS, for instance, had declared its intention to vote against the Government only because the Congress party and the UPA Government it led was not prepared to commit to the formation of a separate Telengana. It was also a fact that neither the Left nor the TDP was willing to do that but then the TRS decided to teach the Congress a lesson and that was all. Similarly, the TDP, with only 5 MPs (and it turned out that two of them voted with the Government side) was consistently anti-Congress and had shown its willingness to sup with the BJP in the past and has not shown any determination to desist from that in the future too.

The BSP, similarly, joined the Left-led moves only because its adversary in Uttar Pradesh – the Samajwadi Party – had jumped on to the Congress-led fold and had begun pushing the Union Government to abuse the CBI and other central investigation agencies to push Mayawati around and drag her into facing criminal charges. It was common knowledge to anyone with even a remote understanding of the political discourse of Uttar Pradesh to conclude that the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party can never be seen on the same side of the political spectrum. This, we know, has determined the political alignment in Tamil Nadu for long ensuring that the DMK and the AIADMK are necessarily seen on wither sides of the political divide between the Congress and the BJP since the past decade.

As for the INLD, no one including its leader Om Prakash Chautala, would know whether the party is committed to secularism of communalism at any given point of time. And the same holds good for Deve Gowda and his Janata Dal (secular), though M.P.Veerendra Kumar, one of the party’s three MPs is a ``natural’’ ally of the Left simply because his political stakes are intrinsically and intimately tied up with the CPI(M) in Kerala. The RLD, led by Ajit Singh has shown, in the past, its willingness to strike deals and bargain between the Congress, the BJP and any political party in Uttar Pradesh as long as it helps Ajit Singh become a Minister or at least make him richer. And the AGP too is no different from any of these formations and ideologically it is closer to the BJP than the Left or any other democratic platform in Assam.

All this is to say that there was no way that the hotch-potch that came up in the limited context of the confidence vote could have evolved into a third front both in the context of this Lok Sabha as well as in the medium term involving elections to the next Lok Sabha. In a sense, this was essentially a creation of the media as well as the desire of the self preserving class of leaders who constitute these parties to bask under the prospect of emerging leaders of significance at the national level. It is true that Mayawati was seen as believing that she is now the pivot of a national political formation and must have imagined herself as India’s Prime Minister. She must have, otherwise, dismissed all such talks in real earnest and clarified that the unity was for the limited purpose of showing that Manmohan Singh and his cabinet lacked the majority support in the Lok Sabha. And for obvious reasons, the Left parties too did not consider it imperative for them to clarify this much.

Having stated this much, it is important to clarify that all this is not to dismiss the possibility and the necessity for a non-Congress-non-BJP political formation at the national level. In other words, such a front, call it by any name, is necessary as well as possible. And this will necessarily have to hinge around the Left parties rather than being forged around one or another avatar of the socialist platform as it had been happening in the past.

It will be appropriate, in this context, to briefly recount the trajectory of this process in our past. The process of opposition unity began in the mid-sixties when the Congress began losing its position as the natural choice of the Indian voter. The initiative and the framework for that unity came from Ram Manohar Lohia and it yielded fruits in the general elections in 1967 when the Congress party was voted out in 9 states and was reduced to a mere 283 seats in a 520 strong Lok Sabha. The opposition, then, consisted of the Socialist Party, the Bharathiya Jan Sangh, the Swatantra Party and the Left. This process continued to unfold during the decade after it came up and evolved into the Janata Party in 1977. If the force behind the change in 1967 was the overall administrative failure of the regime and the weaknesses inherent to the Nehruvian socialist agenda, the catalyst for 1977 came in the form of Indira Gandhi’s emergency.

But then, between 1967 and 1977, the Left had learnt substantive lessons from the experience and matured into maintaining a distance from the formation. The collapse of the Janata in 1978-79 and the fact that the Left had stayed clear of promoting and preserving the formation in its original self was indeed based on a clear understanding that an alternative to the existing regime will have to be one that is strategic and not merely a tactical formation. And this understanding was behind the manner in which the Left treated the V.P.Singh experiment and the Janata Dal in 1989. E.M.S.Namboodiripad, then led the CPI(M), and the other Left parties by extension, to set the terms for their support to the regime rather than being seen running around to forge just another alternative to the Congress.

All this, however, was given up and the task of forging an alternative was redefined from the framework of politics-as-the-art-of-the-possible in May 1996 by Harkishen Singh Surjeet. The United Front, in that sense, was anything but an alternative to the Congress. Nor was it a political formation that was committed to keep the BJP at bay and this was proved when such parties as the TDP, the DMK (or such smaller outfots from Tamil Nadu as the PMK and the MDMK) jumped over to join the BJP-led NDA just when that became the ruling alliance at the Centre. And we also noticed that most significant elements from the socialist fold of the Janata Party had settled down with the BJP by 1998-99 because that made it possible for the leaders of those outfits to become ministers. And in due course, the others who had practical difficulties about joining the BJP-led combine agreed to team up with the Congress (read Lalu Prasad Yadav) for the same reason as a Sharad Yadav and a Nitish Kumar teamed up with the BJP.

We have also found such players like Ram Vilas Paswan (a product of the churning in 1967) and Ajit Singh (whose father Charan Singh split up the Janata Party objecting to the presence of the Jan Sangh members in that) having no problems in teaming up with both the BJP and the Congress at various times. All this were reduced to insignificant developments by Deve Gowda through his political games in Karnataka in the past few years. And now we have Mulayam Singh Yadav, another key player in the political discourse during the decade between 1989 and 1999 turning into the strategic planner in the game to preserve the Manmohan Singh regime.

There is something common between all these. These formations, in the name of being alternatives to the status quo, have only emerged as promoters of the political economy that has landed the nation into where we are and are eager to push the same model further as a solution or a way out of the crisis. That the nation is in the grip of a crisis that encompasses the political, economic and social realms is a fact that all these parties agree to. And it is also a fact that all of them have been active players in the making of the policies that led into this crisis. While it was a settled issue that the Congress party was responsible, through its policies, for this crisis, the fact is that the BJP and its policies are not too different from that of the Congress. This was evident in July 1991 when the BJP and the Congress agreed to pass the New Economic Policy resolution in the Lok Sabha. And the record of the BJP-led Government between April 1998 and May 2004 was in no way a departure from the policy that Manmohan Singh enumciated in July 1991. The United Fronts between May 1996 and March 1998 too (of Gowda and I.K.Gujral) were no different.

And that is where the quest for a third front is imperative as well as possible. It is imperative because the nation cannot remain one and a peaceful place to live with mounting unemployment, under-employment and the increasing attacks on agriculture on the one hand and the pronounced neglect by the state on such critical welfare areas as the Public Distribution System, the health-care network and the abject neglect of education as we see across the country. The fallout of this is the spread of political groups that consider violent reprisals as the means to liberation into new regions. This is a cause for concern simply because whatever be the end game of these groups – call them the Maoists or by any other name – the consequence of their acts simply legitimize the use of more and brutal force by the state against the ordinary people in the villages. The ultimate result of all this could be anything but strengthening democracy.

And at another level, we do see the resistance to such bad policies and the measures such as land grabbing, in the name of economic development, in Kalinga Nagar, Nandigram and Dadri (to name a few such struggles) or the struggle for democratic rights around the detention of Dr. Binayak Sen in Chattisgarh under draconian laws that are illegitimate to say the least, building up across the country. The people in the Narmada basin and in the forests across Madhya Pradesh have been resisting the Indian state and its brutal force for several years now. The basis for a third must be located in these struggles and the Left can lend them a political direction if only its leaders show the courage and honesty to revisit some of their positions that were considered settled in the past. One of it is that technology as the driving force of positive change and thus the tendency to celebrate any development based on technological superiority.

Nandigram and Singur are the fallout of that mindset. And this is a legacy that they internalized in their thoughts from the experience of the Soviet Union in its hey days. That baggage will have to be discarded by the Left parties if their quest for a third front is to be realized in any meaningful manner. In other words, the Left parties must agree to define the Socialist alternative as one where the rights of the human being in the political, cultural, social and economic sense of the term is internalized as non-negotiable. In other words, the idea that socialism is not just about a change in the men at the helm of affairs and is instead a brand new alternate vision to capitalism will have to constitute the very basis of their existence as a political party. For the Left’s claims to forge an alternative, in today’s conditions, to make sense, it will have to locate that process and that project in these various struggles against the liberalization-privatisation-globalisation agenda as well as the undemocratic options that the existing regimes are resorting to against the people and their organisations.

Let me conclude this case recalling what Frederich Engels had to say in his own times about the communist project. Referring to the experience of the Paris Commune, where the working class for the first time held political power for two whole months, Engels wrote another Preface to the Communist Manifesto in 1888. And in that, Marx’s intimate friend and collaborator said: One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’’ Well, a third front or anything else that the communists attempt will have to have the revolutionary transformation of the lives of the toiling people as its strategic end and that cannot be served by mere tinkering of the set up that we now have.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A slightly different version of this appeared in the New Indian Express Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On March 30, 1940, eminent philosopher and one of twentieth century’s greatest thinkers, Bertrand Russell’s appointment as Professor at the New York City College, was revoked by Justice McGeehan of the New York Supreme Court. The case that he disposed was based on a tax payers suit filed by one Jean Kay of Brooklyn to void Russell’s appointment on grounds that he was an alien and an advocate of sexual morality. Mrs. Kay’s lawyers added two more grounds to the petition later: That Russell was appointed without having to give a competitive examination and that ``it was contrary to public policy to appoint as a teacher anyone believing in atheism.’’

The law suit and the judgment were preceded by hysteria orchestrated by the Church across the New York State against the faculty and the Board of the college who were the competent authority to make such appointments. Russell, at that time, was renowned for his scholarship. And yet, the court held that his appointment was void because he had not taken a competitive examination. The fact is that this was not the real reason. Russell was prevented from teaching at the New York City College simply because he was an atheist!

Similarly, Mrs. Kay, whose suit was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision was hardly known to have shown any interest in public affairs until then. The campaign against Russell’s appointment was conducted by the clergy for most parts and Justice McGeehan, who had been associated with the Democrats had ``distinguished’’ himself even at that time by trying to have a portrait of Martin Luther removed from the murals in the County Court at Bronx. Let it be stated, for the record, that the campaign against Russell’s appointment was initiated by one Bishop Manning of the Protestant Episcopal Church through his letters he got published in the various newspapers in New York soon after Russell’s appointment was made public.

To cut a long story short, many factors converged and Justice McGeehan took only two days to glean through Russell’s writings as well as the reams of papers submitted by Mrs. Kay and her counsel, Joseph Goldstein. He declared that Russell was unfit for any teaching job in the college! That the judge overlooked even some basic facts was evident then itself. Mrs. Kay’s plea was based on her concern over what could happen to her daughter, Gloria, if she were to become a student of Bertrand Russell. Incidentally, at the time when Russell was appointed, only men could attend day session courses in liberal arts subjects at the New York City College. Recall what Charles Dickens said in some other context: The Law is an Ass!

This long recap of one of the events in Russell’s life is indeed very relevant in the context of the developments in Kerala in the past few weeks involving a lesson in the school texts. Compared with Russell’s thoughts on religion and God, the lesson in the school texts in Kerala are just nothing. All that it intends is to convey is that it is not necessary for everyone to profess a religion and that children, whose parents belonged to different religions, need not be forced to adopt that of one of their parents. This is not the same as being irreligious.
And in any case, Article 25 of our own Constitution that deals with the Freedom of Religion and Conscience is positively categorical that the freedom of conscience has no necessary connection with any particular religion or of any faith in God. In other words, it is the fundamental right of our citizens to have a conscience that is independent of any religion or of God. And by extension, it is the duty of the state to convey this to its citizens and protect the rights of such citizens to profess this faith in their conscience without having to rely that upon any religion or God.

The point is that a lesson of the kind in the school texts, as has been added in Kerala, is very much consistent with the Constitutional mandate. And even if one departs from this legalese and steps into the realm of socio-political reasoning, all that the said lesson does is to denigrate any sectarian design that promotes intolerance in the name of religion that is now eating into the vitals of our society. There is something seriously wrong with the campaign orchestrated by the clergy belonging to all the religious community against this insertion in the texts. And it is far more frightening to see the political parties, barring the Left, lending their muscle to this campaign.

Well. It is not the first time that this is happening. Recall the unholy alliance between the Church and the Congress party, headed at that time by Indira Gandhi (who professed at that time to be an atheist) against the legislative reforms in the school education system initiated by the EMS ministry and its eminent Education Minister Professor Joseph Mundasery. The real issue then was the unbridled ``rights’’ that the clergy enjoyed over the spoils of appointing teachers to the schools that the church controlled. And when Prof. Mundasery’s Bill laid out that the State Government, whose funds were used to pay the salary of the teachers, shall also have its say in the appointment of teachers, the clergy raised passions. And the Congress party provided the muscle to turn it into a violent agitation and got the elected Government dismissed.

The church ordained that Prof. Mundasery be denied of his dignity in death and denied him a place in the cemetery. That the communist party, with which Prof. Mundasery was associated did not give up on its commitment and even let go political power is as much a fact of history as with the fact that the clergy’s concerns then was the material gains that came from appointing teachers to the schools. Religion and faith, unfortunately, came to their aid.

But then, religion has always been like that. Galileo Galilei, after all was sentenced to imprisonment for having refused to repudiate Coppernicus. At the trial in Rome, the judges found Galileo to be ``vehemently suspect of heresy’’ and exiled him. On his death on January 8, 1642, the Pope refused the Grand Duke of Tuscany permission to stage a public funeral or erect a commemorative mausoleum. Galileo, one of the greatest scientists committed the ``crime’’ of having said Eppur si muove (And yet it moves), even while the sentence of his exile was read out.

Yes. Galileo was rehabilitated by Pope John Paul II as late as in 1992; 350 years after his death and the unceremonious burial then. And it is no longer heresy to say that the Earth moves around the Sun and not the other way round. Even if it may be that astronomy has moved much ahead from Coppernicus and Galileo, the basis for this was laid by them and the Church and the establishment called it heresy. Pope John Paul II was led to recognize this truth, even if it was after so many years after the Roman Church persecuted Galileo for saying that.

One wonders as to how long it would take for the clergy in Kerala to accept the simple truth that there is nothing absolute about religion and faith. Well. It is improper to blame the clergy alone for orchestrating such protests as were witnessed in Kerala in the past few weeks. Like in the case of Prof Mundasery and the Bill that he piloted, the blame squarely rests on the political leadership that lent its cadre to violate the laws in the garb of agitations. The Congress party did that in 1959. It is doing it again. And the BJP too is playing the game.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On all that one is now hearing about Somnath Chatterjee and his inclinations!!!!!!!

It is difficult to maintain that the Lok Sabha Speaker must detach himself from the party that he was elected. The fact that the Speaker happens to be an MP and is there only because he had been a part of one or another political party cannot be denied. And it is hence difficult to insist that he is detached from his party the day he becomes the Speaker. More so because the Speaker’s job is not an ornamental one and there is no ban on the Speaker contesting elections after the term of the House ends.

Given this, it is somewhat ridiculous to expect that Speakers behave the same way that judges of the higher judiciary do. It may be noted here that judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court are barred from practicing in the bar of the same court after their retirement. This is not the case with the Speakers. They are free to come back to the same House as ordinary MPs!

In this sense, there is nothing seriously wrong with the Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, maintaining his connections with his party. He will, after all, have to get back to the party by May 2009 (or earlier if the Lok Sabha is dissolved before that) and stand up as the CPI-M’s candidate from Bolepur. Well. He has the choice to retire from electoral politics, return to his legal practice and appear for one or another corporate group. Chatterjee, we know, was a corporate lawyer with a roaring practice and he can return to that.

This choice is entirely his own and in the event he found the party to be deviating from its principles, he had the liberty to register his objections in the forum he belongs to in the party and fight it out. In this instance, and if reports in the media that Chatterjee is unhappy with the line his party has taken to vote along with the BJP in the confidence vote on July 22, 2008, Chatterjee has the right to raise his objections.

This, however, must have been done, only in his capacity as a member of the CPI(M) and that must have been done without making a public statement. In other words, Chatterjee could not have and must not have glossed over the fact that he happens to be the Speaker of the Lok Sabha too. And in his capacity as Speaker, he is the custodian of the rights of the BJP and its MPs as much as he is the custodian of the rights of the CPI(M), Congress, and other party MPs.

In this light, he had no right to dismiss or condemn the BJP as a party and particularly so in the context of a vote in the Lok Sabha. The Speaker’s duty is to treat every MP as an entity and ensure that their rights are not trampled upon simply because they belong to a party with which he has political and ideological differences. Hence, if it is true that Chatterjee had raised the issue of the right or the wrong of the CPI(M) voting with the BJP and held that as something wrong, he has no right to remain the Speaker.

Be that as it may. There is another serious issue in this discourse and that involves the internal dynamics of the CPI(M). This is so because Chatterjee is not alone in raising the issue. We now see reports of several senior leaders in the CPI(M), including the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the State Transport Minister Subhash Chakraborthy and a few others having problems with the party’s decision to withdraw support to the UPA coalition and the fact that this is being raised in the public.

The signals are very clear. As it happened in the several years between 1952 and 1964, leading to the split in the CPI and to the formation of the CPI(M), we find a section in the CPI(M) wanting to support the Congress. This is indeed the culmination of a political crisis that has been on inside the CPI(M) for at least a decade or more and manifest in the party’s Chandigarh Congress in 1995. Recall the fact that Saifuddin Chaudhury, a well known face of the party in the Lok Sabha then, being dropped from the Central Committee and subsequently expelled from the party for having spoken in favour of building a working relationship with the Congress.

Incidentally, Somnath Chatterjee too belonged to that league then. But he was retained in the party only because his case was defended by some other important senior leaders at that time. It included Jyoti Basu too.

The point is that things have taken a concrete shape now and it is time that Prakash Karat and those in the Central Committee who think like him on the question of the Congress gear up for a battle in the same way as those who founded the CPI(M) did in 1964. It looks like the CPI(M) may undergo another split soon. The party faithful may still argue that this is reading too much into a situation and call it a tirade against the party. Well. The answer, like Bob Dylan sand in the Sixties, is blowin in the wind!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Know your Mulayam Singh
(I know this is too long. But thought it to be relevent... )
The Samajwadi Party and its two faces – Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh – have emerged into the nation’s saviours and once again, secularism is their slogan. Nothing more will be ironical than the fact that these two leaders were equally emphatic, not very long ago, hurling innuendoes against the Congress party and its president, Sonia Gandhi.

L.K.Advani, in his autobiography recalls his meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav late in the night on April 21, 1991. The context was the imminence of a Congress-led Government being formed after Atal Behari Vajpayee lost the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on April 17, 1999. The meeting, according to Advani, was arranged by George Fernandes and at Jaya Jaitley’s residence at Sujan Singh Park, one of New Delhi’s up market residential localities. Advani recalls the secrecy that the meeting was shrouded in and that he was taken to that place by Ms. Jaitley herself in her private car to avoid anyone getting wind of it.

The BJP leader recalls that Mulayam Singh was already there at Ms. Jaitley’s house and the Samajwadi Party leader gave him a commitment there and then that the 20 MPs of the Samajwadi Party were committed against supporting a Congress-led Government. Sonia Gandhi had declared, a few hours before that meeting that she had the support of 272 MPs and that included the 20 MPs of the Samajwadi Party. To cut a long story short, Mulayam Singh met with President, K.R.Narayanan, on April 23, 1999 and informed him in writing that his party did not support Sonia Gandhi’s claim. And that put to rest the possibilities of a Congress-led Government.

Mulayam Singh has not denied this meeting until now. Well. Advani too has not revealed all that had happened at the meeting. There is no mention, in Advani’s autobiography as to whether he went to the meeting without any baggage! The point is whether Mulayam Singh turned richer after that meeting or not. And there is no provision in the Right to Information Act for us to know further details about that meeting. And Mulayam Singh certainly is not as innocent as the JMM MPs who deposited money into Fixed Deposit accounts they opened in a nationalized bank around the same time they saved the Narasimha Rao Government from falling in July 1993!

In the same way, it is not possible now to affirm as to whether Mulayam Singh’s realization, just a couple of days ago, that the Indo-US Nuclear deal is good for the nation simply on the basis of former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s opinion or as to whether something else. In other words, the RTI Act does not enable us to know as to whether the deal was clinched through any other deal. Well. This will continue to lurk in the minds of anyone who knows the Samajwadi Party somewhat well and Mulayam Singh’s past even remotely. And for those who are not familiar with the party and the past history of its supreme leader as well as about the chief interlocutor Amar Singh, here is a brief note on that.

Mulayam’s first foray into the national political discourse was in the context of the United Front that took shape in May 1996 when he became the Union Defence Minister. And after the then Congress president, Sitaram Kesri announced withdrawal of the pary’s support to the Government (on March 30, 1997), leaders of all hues were busy with what they love most; drawing room manipulations. Mulayam Singh was among them and he saw a distinct possibility of becoming the Prime Minister.

He had been the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh twice before[i] and there was indeed a moment when Mulayam Singh Yadav emerged the front-runner for the top post. The United Front Convenor, N.Chandrababu Naidu was ``empowered’’ by the leaders of the several parties that made for the Front to chose between Yadav and I.K.Gujral. Both of them were ministers in the Deve Gowda cabinet. And Naidu, after consultations with a few senior journalists in Delhi decided to anoint Gujral. The fact is that Mulayam Singh Yadav lost the opportunity simply because he was not known to the senior journalists in Delhi at that time as much as they knew Gujral. And Lalu Prasad Yadav, another key player in the Front had his own reservations against Mulayam and hence pushed Gujral’s case.

Be that as it may. Mulayam Singh Yadav began his political life as a participant in campaigns that veteran socialist leader Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia[ii] sometimes in 1954 and he was just 15 years of age then. From there, he had traveled a long way to arrive on the political scene in New Delhi by 1999. Elected as president of the Student’s Union of Etawah Degree College in 1961-62, he was part of the Samyukta Socialist Party contingent in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1967. The SSP had won 44 seats in the State Assembly in that election and had contested the polls as part of the grand alliance against Indira’s Congress party. This was when the Congress party’s natural claim to power suffered a dent and the party lost power in nine States. In Uttar Pradesh, however, the Congress retained power for a month after the elections. In April 1967, the Congress Government was brought down and Charan Singh became the Chief Minister with support from the Bharathiya Jan Sangh, the Samyukta Socialist Party, the Praja Socialist Party and the Swatantra Party.

Mulayam Singh was only 28 years old then and was the youngest member of the State Assembly. He did not stay for long in the Socialist Party. After losing his assembly seat in the 1969 elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav joined Charan Singh’s Bharathiya Kranti Dal and was elected to the Assembly in 1974. He was arrested and detained under MISA and when elections were held in March 1977, Mulayam Singh became part of the Janata Party by virtue of the fact that the Lok Dal had merged into the new outfit. He was elected, for the third time, to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and was made a minister in the Janata Party ministry headed by Ram Naresh Yadav. At 38, Mulayam was Minister for Cooperative and Animal Husbandry. He set out on a political project, influenced by the Lohiaite thought and introduced reservation for the Other Backwards Classes (OBCs) in jobs in his department. In other words, even though he had parted ways with the Socialist Party and joined Charan Singh’s camp, his decisions were guided by ideas that were rooted in an ideological framework that Lohia had formulated. And this helped him, in the long run, to carve out a political space for himself rather than remaining Charan Singh’s camp follower.[iii] This does not mean that he was untouched by Charan Singh’s ideas. As Cooperative Minister between 1977 and 1980, Mulayam Singh also ensured reduced interest rates to the farmers. And when the Janata experiment collapsed, Mulayam clearly associated himself with Charan Singh and Madhu Limaye rather than going along the George Fernandes line.[iv] Mulayam Singh, meanwhile, gave up the core aspect of the Lohiaite ideology; opposition to large-scale industries and a preference for appropriate technology as formulated by Mahatma Gandhi. While internalising the concept of affirmative action and building a strategic alliance with the medium and small farmer, Mulayam Singh was not convinced on the relevance of a campaign against promoting large enterprises in the private sector.

In other words, his was a blend of the Socialist Party’s ideas in the social realm and the Swatantra Party[v] approach in the economic policy realm. And the idea of secularism, that was common to both these streams, constituted the third element of Mulayam Singh’s strategic thinking.

This long introduction is indeed necessary to place the emergence of Mulayam Singh and the factors that helped create a large political space, for himself, and explain the basis that ensures his survival in the Uttar Pradesh political scene and by extension, his continued relevance as a force to reckon with, in the national scene. This exercise will not be complete without stressing, at this stage, that in all these stages, Mulayam ensured that he was not saddled with the difficult task of dealing with leaders and personalities who had their own agenda. In other words, at every stage, he had consciously set out on a course to cultivate himself as a leader in his own right and freed himself from the trappings of being a passive participant in someone else’s political scheme.

Thus, after remaining under Charan Singh’s shadow for a while, Mulayam went on to align himself with H.N.Bahuguna when the Lok Dal split into Lok Dal (Ajit) and Lok dal (Bahuguna). He was aware of his own weakness vis a vis Charan Singh but also realized that his strength vis a vis Charan Singhs son, Ajit Singh. And at that stage, Mulayam also restricted his territorial focus to Uttar Pradesh, leaving Haryana to Devi Lal. He was aware of his status – of being an outsider – insofar as the Jats were concerned. At the same time, he knew the potential that existed to his own growth as a leader representing the rising aspirations of the Yadavs. He also understood the importance of a strategic alliance with the Rajputs in the Uttar Pradesh scenario and this led him to join the Janata Dal. In other words, when Mulayam finally agreed to merge the Lok Dal (B) into the Janata Dal in October 1988, despite strong opposition to this from H.N.Bahuguna[vi], he was guided by a shrewd calculation that a unity of the Yadavs and the Rajputs were critical for his own future. Those familiar with the socio-political scene in the Gangetic planes will know the impact of this in the 1989 general elections.[vii]

From being a Charan Singh protégé that helped him being nominated as the Leader of Opposition in the State’s Legislative Council[viii] he was elected Leader of the Opposition in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly after 1985. And when the Janata Dal was formed, in October 1988, Mulayam Singh emerged the natural choice to lead the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party. As president of the State unit, he led the Janata Dal to victory in the State Assembly elections held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections in November 1989. This was also when the BJP had launched its Ayodhya campaign and Mulayam Singh, who had already built himself upon the strategy that Madhu Limaye had set out in July 1978 (with a view to enlist the Muslim support to the anti-Congress politics) found all that were needed to unseat the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. The blatant attempts by Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress party to appropriate the Ayodhya agenda helped Mulayam in this.

The Assembly elections results from Uttar Pradesh in 1989, however, were not as pleasant to Mulayam Singh. The Janata Dal secured only 204 seats in the 421 member State Assembly and was forced to depend on the 13 MLAs who had won as independents. This was only a small issue. Mulayam’s problem was Ajit Singh. He had staked his claim for Chief Minister’s post. The Janata Dal Legislature Party in Uttar Pradesh was faction ridden and the MLAs were split up between Mulayam and Ajit Singh. Though Mulayam commanded a larger number of MLAs, he was dependent on the former Jan Morcha lot to emerge the winner. And these were men who were unflinching, at that time, in their loyalty to V.P.Singh. All this pushed the party into a crisis not just in the party but the more important fallout of this from the concerns of this article is that Mulayam Singh Yadav was made to realise that his ascendancy as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister depended on V.P.Singh. The two leaders had been on opposite poles in Uttar Pradesh for several years. He was chosen the leader of the Legislature Party on December 2, 1989 but only after V.P.Singh had conveyed his preference and ensured that the 30 Janata Dal MLAs from the Jan Morcha stream supported Mulayam Singh against Ajit Singh.

This convinced Mulayam to work on carving out a space for himself independent of the high command in Delhi. And he set out on this in real earnest. And when V.P.Singh landed himself in a crisis in August-September 1990[ix], Mulayam Singh threw his lot behind Chandrashekhar, leading his followers in the Janata Dal into the Samajwadi Janata Party.[x] This move rendered Mulayam Singh’s Government in Uttar Pradesh too into a minority and it could be sustained only with support from the Congress Party, with 94 MLAs.[xi] And hence, when the Chandrashekhar ministry fell, Mulayam Singh Yadav too recommended dissolution of the State Assembly and fresh elections.[xii]
This, indeed, was the worst of the many gambles for him. For the results of the May-June 1991 general elections were disastrous for him as well as the Samajwadi Janata Party. While the SJP won only 3 Lok Sabha seats, Mulayam Singh could win only 30 seats in the State Assembly. His role in containing the crowds that attempted to ravage the Babri Masjid in October-November 1990 had, without doubt, brought him close to the Muslim minority community across the State. But then, the unity of forces between the Yadavs and the Rajputs that helped the ascendancy of the Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1989 was not there in 1991. While the Rajputs turned hostile in the post-Mandal context, the hysteria whipped up by the BJP over Ayodhya helped the party consolidate a pan-Hindu vote bank. Mulayam Singh, however, would lay the foundations for a long term strategy in this defeat. And this was a unity of the Other Backward Classes, the Muslims and the Dalits.
But then, he was determined by now to set out on a course where he would determine the details. And on October 4, 1992, he announced the formation of his own party at a rally held at the Begum Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow. And unlike in the past, Mulayam Singh Yadav was elected president of the party by the party workers who had assembled there at the venue. In other words, he was not nominated the president of the party by anyone as it happened in the past.
An illustration of his hold over the Samajwadi Party can be found in the official website[xiii] of the party. A verbatim reproduction of the few lines will be appropriate in this context. It says: ``Yadav's standing ensures that he is in overall command. There is no challenger in sight. His wish is the Samajwadi Party's command. (emphasis added)’’ And as for the party’s structure, the website adds: ``Apart from Yadav, there is the vice-president, Janeshwar Mishra and eight general secretaries, including the powerful Amar Singh. The office-bearers are elected for a three-year term.’’
It is a different matter that the party holds regular sessions and goes through the process of ``electing’’ Mulayam Singh Yadav as its president. And the election, each time, is for a period of three years. The foundation conference elected Raghu Thakur, who entered the political scene as a young student leader in the course of the Total Revolution[xiv] during the Seventies as its general secretary. He did not survive for long in the party and was expelled from the party when he raised his voice against Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ``autocratic’’ ways of functioning. The immediate provocation for Thakur’s expulsion was his intervention in the party’s national executive against the importance given in the party to Sanjay Dalmia, an industrialist and among those who financed Mulayam Singh’s campaign in the initial years of the party’s existence. But then, events that immediately followed Thakur’s expulsion revealed that Dalmia was not the irritant. Mulayam Singh anointed Amar Singh[xv] as the party’s general secretary in Raghu Thakur’s place. And Sanjay Dalmia was hardly seen anywhere in the Samajwadi Party’s scheme within months after that.
An interesting aside here would be the party’s philosophy: ``The Samajwadi Party,’’ according to the party’s official website, ``believes in democratic socialism and opposes the unrestricted entry of multinational companies into India. It stands for equality and prosperity for all. It is dead set against communal forces and favours a confederation of India-Pakistan-Bangladesh.’’ While the details about the party’s philosophy and its commitment to the high principles of socialism are outside the scope of this article, it will be relevant to recall in this context that Mulayam Singh Yadav, had, during his first term as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister (between December 1989 and May 1991) ordered the transfer of a cement manufacturing unit owned by the State Government to Sanjay Dalmia. This move was opposed by the Left parties and the opposition was put down by resort to brute force including police firing against agitating workers.
Meanwhile, Amar Singh’s arrival in the Samajwadi Party helped Mulayam Singh Yadav in two ways. This former Congressman and socialite was also a resourceful person. While the source of all his resources is a question that begs an answer[xvi], he could enlist investors from Mumbai and elsewhere to develop Uttar Pradesh into an industrial hub. The Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation agenda set in motion since July 1991 and Mulayam Singh’s rhetoric to make Uttar Pradesh the most favoured destination for investors and thus change the face of this State, for long identified as backward and under-developed provided the context for Amar Singh’s rise in the Samajwadi Party as a leader, who at times appeared to be larger that Mulayam Singh Yadav. And when Mulayam Singh took over as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, for the third time, in August 2003, he made Amar Singh the chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Development Corporation. This move had its implications; the most important one of them being the decision, by Mukesh Ambani[xvii], to set up a power generation unit in the State. Apart from Ambani, the Sahara Group, settled down in Lucknow and the concessions that were on offer from the State Government to these enterprises certainly knocked the bottom off the party’s claim to represent the socialist ideals enunciated by Ram Manohar Lohia.[xviii] This, in any case, is beyond the scope of this article.
The second important fallout of Amar Singh’s entry and rise to prominence in the Samajwadi Party could be seen in the socio-political context. The OBC-Dalit alliance that was achieved when Mulayam Singh Yadav forged an electoral alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (headed by Kanshi Ram and led by Mayawati) in September 1993 helped the Samajwadi Party supremo become Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in November 1993. The November 1993 polls to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly were the first instance when Mulayam Singh could formulate his strategy without having to depend on leaders in New Delhi for approval. In other words, he had grown into the supreme leader of a party and this helped him tread an un-chartered course without any shackles.
The outcome of the polls simply came as a reassurance, to Mulayam Singh Yadav, that he was now in absolute control of a party rather than being saddled with a party and its leader in New Delhi. In a short span of four years (from December 1989 to November 1993), Mulayam had evolved into a leader in his own right. Recall the fact that he was at V.P.Singh’s mercy in December 1989. Though the political arrangement between the SP and the BSP collapsed in June 1995[xix] and as a consequence, the social alliance between the OBCs and the Dalits that helped him become Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was also gone, the arrival of Amar Singh into the Samajwadi Party was significant. The BJP, that had benefited from a unity of the Upper Castes in the post-Mandal context began losing support of the Rajputs after it propped up Mayawati. And Amar Singh’s ascendancy helped Mulayam gain out of this.
This process was complete after Mayawati, as Chief Minister, once again with support from the BJP put Raja Raghuraj Pratap Singh in jail.[xx] With Amar Singh in his stable, Mulayam Singh Yadav did not let go the opportunity and stood up in support of Raghuraj Pratap Singh. And he could resort to this without having to ruffle feathers in his party and without having to bother about how the others in his party would react to such a shift. Mulayam Singh Yadav was, indeed, the supreme leader of the Samajwadi Party and just as the party’s website declares, ``his wish is the Samajwadi Party's command.’’ In other words, Amar Singh, despite appearing in many ways, as the most important leader of the party, has been and continues to be a useful fixture in the party. In the present context, his caste identity – of being a Rajput – made him important in Mulayam Singh’s design. The most important point in this context is that Mulayam Singh Yadav could devise this strategy, without even provoking a murmur of protest from his party. In other words, this would not have been possible if Mulayam Singh had remained a chieftain of a national party.
The fact that Mulayam Singh had not let his stranglehold on the Samajwadi Party slip at any stage was revealed when he could nominate his son, Akhilesh Singh, as Samajwadi Party candidate in the by-election to the Kannauj Lok Sabha constituency after he vacated the seat soon after the September 1999 elections. Mulayam Singh had won from Sambhal and Kannauj and vacated the latter. Akhilesh Singh won the election and was appointed Deputy Leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. And after he took over as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister in August 2003 and hence had to vacate his Lok Sabha seat, Mulayam fielded none other than his own brother, Ram Gopal Yadav from Sambhal. All this clearly show that the party is nothing but a fief of the leader and Mulayam Singh Yadav ensures that by way of placing his own brothers and his son in important positions. As for Amar Singh, the fact is that he is only a means for Mulayam Singh Yadav to expand the party’s social base as well as to find finances to run the party. And lest it be mistaken, after roping in Raja Raghuraj Pratap Singh into his party’s fold, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dependence on Amar Singh to reach out to the Thakurs is less than what it was when the socialite-socialist joined the Samajwadi Party sometimes between 1996 and 1998.
To cut a long story short now, the Samajwadi Party was founded on October 4, 1992 by Mulayam Singh Yadav with the sole objective of promoting himself. And in the 16 years that the party has existed, he seems to have achieved this with such ease. He learnt his early lessons in political management from Charan Singh: That it pays to remain a marginal player in the political arena as long as one is willing to give ideology the short shrift.
[i] Mulayam Singh Yadav was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh first between December 1991 and later on between December 1993 and June 1995. And for the third time between September 2003 and June 2007.
[ii] Dr.Lohia had led a campaign against land tax on farmers who held less than Six and half acres land. Mulayam Singh Yadav was a participant in a demonstration for this demand. He was arrested and sent to jail for the first time.
[iii] While Charan Singh’s political game was guided and facilitated by what can be described as carving out a space for marginal players in the mainstream and creating a space for negotiating power with anyone and everyone, Mulayam Singh Yadav set out on a course from where he could render an ideological veneer to such negotiations. This probably explains the difference between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ajit Singh (Charan Singh’s son) in the past decade. It is also appropriate to explain the BSP in Uttar Pradesh today. While the BSP fits into the Charan Singh model (of building itself into a force on the marginal player framework), Mulayam Singh Yadav has ensured a sense of political legitimacy by way of ensuring that his actions are guided by a certain ideology and an image that he is committed, in his core, to secular values. Incidentally, Mulayam and Ajit Singh are allies at the time of writing this.
[iv] Madhu Limaye, an important ideologue of the Socialist Party and the most influential thinker in that tradition after Lohia, sought Morarji Desai, the Janata Party Prime Minister, to drop Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K.Advani from the Union Cabinet as long as they insisted on their association with the RSS. This dispute, popularly known as the dual membership issue came to haunt the Janata Party since July 1978 and ended in a split in the Janata Party in July 1979. Morarji Desai refused to agree with Madhu Limaye and allowed the issue to snowball into a crisis and his own fall from the Prime Minister’s post. Madhu Limaye’s logic was that the anti-Congress surge witnessed in the 1977 general elections cannot be sustained as long as the Jan Sangh remained a part of the Janata Party; the reason was that an anti-Congress platform cannot survive without permanently retaining the Muslim support base and that with the Jan Sangh in the Janata fold, it will only be a matter of time before the Congress party revives its traditional support base among the Muslims. While there were several other factors, most of them being individual egos, that finally contributed to the decimation of the Janata Party, the dual membership issue was one that was deeply rooted in an ideological and strategic thinking. It is also relevant that the immediate provocation to the split came from Uttar Pradesh when Charan Singh ordered Ram Naresh Yadav to sack the Jan Sangh elements from the Uttar Pradesh cabinet. Further discussion on this does not concern the subject matter of this paper. But it is pertinent to point out that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s emergence in Uttar Pradesh through the nineties were guided by this political strategy in the same way as Lalu Prasad Yadav’s emergence in the Bihar political scene.
[v] The Swatantra Party, born in 1959 after the Congress Party’s Nagpur session where it committed itself (more in a rhetorical sense) to the idea of cooperative farming was indeed the only party in independent India’s political history to have committed overtly to the principles of free market (against Nehruvian socialism) and at the same time unflinching in its commitment to the idea of secularism as perceived from the Western and modernist sense.
[vi] H.N.Bahuguna did not participate in the convention on October 11, 1988 convention at Bangalore where the Lok Dal, Janata Party and the Jan Morcha merged to form the Janata Dal. Mulayam Singh, however, broke ranks with Bahuguna to be at the convention.
[vii] In the complex socio-political mosaic that influences the polls in this region, the expulsion of V.P.Singh from the Congress party in 1988 led the Rajputs to leave that party. And this social group that had supported the Congress for long (against the Socialist Party whose social base was predominantly constituted by the intermediate castes) began looking for a re-alignment. This came about after the Socialists and the dominant sections in the Lok Dal merged into the Janata Dal that came into existence around the personality of V.P.Singh. And the new slogan was Raghuvanshi-Yaduvanshi bhai bhai; anya jaat kahan se aayi! (There is no place for others when the Rajputs and yadavs agree to behave as brothers).
[viii] As Leader of Opposition in the Council, Mulayam Singh Yadav was a trenchant critic of V.P.Singh, who was at that time in the Congress and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The debates between the two in the Legislature at that time will reveal the deep animosity that Mulayam had towards V.P.Singh. And yet he joined the Dal and proclaimed V.P.Singh as his leader only because Mulayam Singh knew how important it was to have the Rajputs along with his own OBC base in the Uttar Pradesh political scenario.
[ix] The crisis could be seen as having been triggered by V.P.Singh’s decision to implement some of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission (reservation for Other Backward Castes in Central Government jobs) on August 8, 1990, the BJP setting out on an intense campaign on the Ayodhya issue (and L.K.Advani setting out on his rath yatra) and eventually the fall of the National Front Government in November 1990).
[x] Chandrashekhar became Prime Minister in November 1990, commanding a splinter group of the Janata Dal consisting of only 44 MPs and the Government was sustained by support from the Congress party from outside. The Government fell after Rajiv Gandhi announced withdrawal of support in March 1991.
[xi] The Congress party’s strength has now dwindled to a mere ** in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly after the February 2002 elections.
[xii] The Congress party had not withdrawn support to the Mulayam Government then. Mulayam Singh’s decision was just a pre-emptive strike.

[xiii] See http//
[xiv] Jayaprakash Narayan, influenced by the student movement in Gujarat against the corrupt Chimanbhai Patel Government gave a call for a movement against corruption in Bihar in 1973 and went about defining the campaign as Total Revolution. While this campaign was the strongest in Bihar, it also drew a section of the youth and students from many other University campuses across the country and most of them who belonged to the Samata Yuvjan Sabha and followers of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and his socialist ideas joined the political mainstream through the Janata Party in 1977 and the Janata Dal in 1988. Raghu Thakur was among those who went along with Mulayam Singh Yadav when he set up the Samajwadi Party in October 1992.
[xv] Even a casual observer of the national political scene during the decade between 1996 and 2006 will have noticed Amar Singh and his importance in the drawing room manipulations in the national capital during this period. And those familiar with the political history of Uttar Pradesh since the Seventies recall Amar Singh as having been an aide of Vir Bahadur Singh, a Congressman from Gorakhpur (in Eastern Uttar Pradesh). Singh, who began as Minister for Public Works in Uttar Pradesh had evolved, within a decade, to become as Chief Minister of the State in September 1985. His rise, according to political commentators, was facilitated by the enormous resources he had managed to accumulate as Public Works Minister and use that to muster support of a large number of Congress party MLAs against Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for a year after August 1984. This has to do with the culture of dissidence and the high command syndrome that had marked the Congress party’s record since independence. Of relevance to us is that Amar Singh had risen to become a member of the AICC thanks to V.B.Singh and after his death landed as K.K.Birla’s aide in New Delhi. He remained an AICC member from Uttar Pradesh and also in the inner circle of Madhavrao Scindia before arriving in the Samajwadi Party as its general secretary.
[xvi] If gossips in the political circles could be taken as conclusive evidence, Amar Singh, who hails from a lower middle class moorings in Azamgarh (in Uttar Pradesh) had evolved into a confidante of a number of leaders, including V.B.Singh and had thus managed to command the wealth that those leaders had made abusing their political office. The point is that there is very little as evidence other than such tales in this regard.
[xvii] This would lead to w serious rift in the Ambani family and to a partition of the company between Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani. Mukesh Ambani, meanwhile, was elected to the Rajya Sabha as an independent member supported by the Samajwadi Party. This squabble in the business enterprise was, apart from other factors, the fallout of the antagonism that developed between the Congress party and the Samajwadi Party in which Amar Singh was an important factor.
[xviii] Lohia was a staunch advocate of appropriate technology and a trenchant critique of mega-projects. He had consistently articulated against capital intensive technology and was unflinching in his criticism against the state facilitating investments by the capitalist class. It is another matter that Mulayam Singh makes it a point to appropriate the Lohiaite legacy every now and then. It is also a fact that a large number of Lohia’s followers are now a part of the Samajwadi Party. The party vice-president, Janeshwar Mishra being one among them.
[xix] The SP-BSP coalition Government in Uttar Pradesh was brought down after Mayawati announced withdrawal of support. Although the BSP underwent a split after that and a section stayed on to support Mulayam Singh Yadav as Chief Minister, the numbers were not sufficient to sustain the Government. And Mulayam Singh was replaced by Mayawati as Chief Minister. The BSP leader was supported by the BJP. This arrangement too gave way within a short period of four months.
[xx] Known as Raja bhaiya, this legatee of the Kunta principality in the Pratapgarh district, was charged under various provisions of POTA, a Preventive Detention Law enacted by the Union Government. His detention provoked an angry reaction among the Rajputs and the BJP suffered substantive erosion of its base because the Mayawati Government survived on the BJP’s support. This, indeed, was the prime factor that led to the BJP’s dismal show in the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections.