Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati have dominated the socio-political discourse in Uttar Pradesh for close to a quarter century now. It was in 1992 that Mayawati first started emerging as a force in the state representing mainly Dalit population through her Bahujan Samaj Party, whereas in the same year Mulayam had formed his Samajwadi Party after a series of defections, manipulations, breakaways and stints in power. Both had placed their bets on a risky but useful political gamble by forming a coalition government in 1993 but the experiment failed amid conspiracy and violence in June 1995.
But now, the two present a study in contrast that speaks volumes about their approach to political power and attitudes towards other parties. This contrast will certainly shape the things to come not only in Uttar Pradesh but in national politics as well in the next two years.
On a day of quick political developments in Lucknow on Sunday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav appeared for a joint press conference and took part in a rally. Most significantly, Rahul said he had immense respect for Mayawati and indicated that because of her policies, she was more acceptable than the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the evening, Akhilesh's father - who had flown to Delhi the same day - told the media that he did not approve of the SP-Congress alliance and he will oppose it in the election campaign. On the other hand, Mayawati said that the alliance was "opportunistic and unholy" and a conspiracy to indirectly benefit BJP.
She termed the alliance as being superficial, saying it was like dil mile na mile haath milate rahiye (join your hands even if your hearts do not join). The SP regime, she said, was marked by increase in crime and communal riots, and yet the Congress has decided to take the chance to face reverses from this alliance. She asked: "What else is this if not politics of opportunism?"
The Congress couldn't have expected from Mayawati a welcome or praise for the "immense respect" shown by Rahul towards her. And her reaction was also among expected lines. Yet, the unusually soft and conciliatory expression by Rahul is a sign of the clout that Mayawati is expected to wield, and the eagerness with which Mayawati's political favours could be pursued by the Congress in days to come.
The times are a changin'
Compare this with what Mulayam has become now.
Regardless of the lingering doubts that the so-called dispute within the Yadav family and the top leaders of the Samajwadi Party were scripted by Mulayam himself, the end result was that the legal and official control of the party finally went to Akhilesh, who also got rid of people he did not want in the party and the Government he headed.
In the end, Mulayam was left with the company of his younger brother Shivpal Yadav, and a handful of supporters, the rest having deserted him for either the Rashtriya Lok Dal or, ironically, the BSP. And now, he is forced to condemn the alliance his son has forged with the Congress, while admitting that the formation of his Samajwadi Party has been on the basis of anti-Congress sentiments and policies. Mulayam has also claimed that he will campaign against the SP-Congress alliance in the coming days. He also feels that Akhilesh had better chances of retaining power if he had contested alone.
Strikingly, Akhilesh did not express any eagerness to be respectful or accommodating towards Mayawati. Instead, he said the SP-Congress alliance could not accommodate someone as 'big' as Mayawati or her election symbol the 'elephant.' Akhilesh was reminded by the media that till some time ago, he used to call Mayawati his bua (paternal aunt), but he very firmly said he does not say so now.
Is it that the alliance looks at a possible scenario where BSP could come to the aid of the party? And is this something that has the blessings of Mulayam?
Or, it is the end of Mulayam's brand of politics where political foes are foes for all time to come - in this case, both the Congress and the BSP?
As Mayawati has embarked upon her election campaign with a series of rallies planned across the state, Akhilesh and Rahul, too, have their campaign strategy in place, even if Rahul has stated that he shan't reveal the strategy to the media.
And on the other hand is Mulayam, a lone crusader of his brand of socialism, preparing to do his bit to oppose the SP-Congress alliance. In the five years of Akhilesh's regime, Mulayam played the main opposition to his son's government. Now, he plans to do the same when Akhilesh is trying hard to retain power with forces that Mulayam abhors. It is over to the people now.