What is Mulayam Singh up to?
New Delhi: Driven by the ambition of being the prime ministerial nominee in case a Third Front comes to the fore after the 2014 general elections, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is pitching to play the big game with his lofty on-again, off-again expressions of support designed to keep the ruling UPA coalition on the edge.
As part of a plan to project himself as a national leader, Yadav, who supports the UPA from outside with his 22 MPs, has been at various times threatening to pull out, knowing well that his support has become crucial for the ruling coalition after the exit of the Trinamool Congress and the DMK in the past six months.
"Mulayam is doing this mainly to strengthen his claim of becoming the prime ministerial candidate in case there is a Third Front," Zoya Hasan, who teaches political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.
But Mulayam Singh is also facing personal problems, what with a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into alleged corruption - known as a disproportionate assets case - and keeps blowing hot and cold to strike the best bargain with the Congress.
"He is working to weaken the Congress. He will keep the UPA on tenterhooks and try to get financial help from the central government for UP," Hasan added.
A case in point is the change in the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister's anti-Congress stance came on a day when Finance Minister P Chidambaram praised his son and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow and assured him of financial help to develop the state.
Mulayam Singh termed the Congress "a party of cheats and cleaver leaders" but quickly toned down his rhetoric saying he won't pull the rug from under the UPA but kept the pressure on by reiterating the next general elections would be held earlier than scheduled.
He also said he was supporting the UPA to keep communal forces (read BJP) at bay and said the SP was the only party which cared for Muslims after the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992.
For the Congress, there is no end to this political drama.
"The drama will continue. He (Mulayam) is playing the bigger game," political commentator N Bhaskara Rao told IANS.
According to Rao, with both the national parties - the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party - finding it difficult to inspire the voters, there is an opportunity for Mulayam Singh to make a dent on the national political scene in line with his ambitions.
Also, the other two main contenders for the Third Front's prime ministerial nominee - Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithha - are busy managing their states.
"Mulayam has a lot of time as he is not directly responsible for running the state. But both Nitish and Jayalalithaa have to manage their states," said Rao.
According to Rao, Mulayam is also pitching for a national role for himself as he knows that among other possible contenders, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is not keeping a good health, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is not in the reckoning and his bete noir in Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, is lying low.
According to experts, Mulayam's calculation is to get around half of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 to have an upper hand in case a coalition of regional parties is in a position to form a government at the centre.
"He is pressing for early polls to beat the growing anti-incumbency in UP, where the law and order situation is a major concern," said Hasan.