Mulayam Singh Yadav may seem ruffled that his reputation as a protector of the minorities has taken a severe beating. But the Samajwadi Party chief doesn’t appear to be in a hurry for an image makeover. The state government’s repeated failures in controlling communal flare-ups in Uttar Pradesh and its cruelty to the Muzaffarnagar riot victims are being compared with the Narendra Modi-led government’s performance during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The contrasting images of Uttar Pradesh — one revealing the despair of the homeless riot victims, and the other of a lavish carnival in the chief minister’s native Saifai village — fuel the belief that both Mulayam and son Akhilesh have made a mockery of governance and secularism.
Following the father’s claims that those staying in relief camps are Congress and BJP conspirators, Akhilesh’s government asked some 300 homeless families to vacate the Muzaffarnagar camps in 24 hours. It didn’t occur to the authorities that the order came on a night when it had rained, with the mercury inching closer to zero degree. In the nearby Shamli camps, families, mindful of the December 4 deadline, are moving out with their meagre possessions.
Some of them landed up in the open plots they have bought with the government’s Rs5-lakh compensation; a few took shelter in the verandah and the balcony of a benefactor’s house, while others sought refuge in a Muzaffarnagar government school and in the cluster of houses being erected by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind.
It’s difficult to miss the irony in the government diktat. According to the Muzaffarnagar additional district magistrate Indermani Tripathi, the order to demolish the camps is aimed at protecting the people staying there from biting cold, and encourage them to go “wherever they wished to”.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Mulayam is on uncertain ground even in his own bastion. He has realised that he is ceding ground to Narendra Modi. The SP patriarch has voiced his fears that the BJP would increase its seat share in the 2014 elections in UP by eating into the majority vote bank. But Mulayam and Akhilesh’s actions have queered the pitch even further for their party.
The minority votes that the SP is banking on will be hard to galvanise because the party has lost the faith and confidence of the Muslims who had once looked up to Mulayam and voted him to power. Worse, unlike Modi, the father and son can’t even lay claims to development. UP, in spite of generous central government aid packages, is yet to show any significant signs of improvement, both in terms of infrastructure and employment generation. Even Bihar under Nitish Kumar has forged far ahead of UP.
Perhaps, Mulayam is now only interested in becoming the Prime Minister, a chance that was once denied to him by his bete noire Lalu Prasad Yadav. But with a shrinking support base, which will most likely translate into fewer seats, one wonders how he will fulfil his dream, even if a Third Front forms a government at the Centre following the 2014 elections.