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From 'Maulana Mulayam' to Hindu 'Hriday Samrat': the SP makeover

Abhishek Parashar | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:13 IST
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The tag

  • Mulayam Singh Yadav has often been labelled \'Maulana\' for his Muslim-centric approach
  • After winning 5/80 seats in Lok Sabha 2014, he seems to be trying to shed this tag

The moves

  • Son Akhilesh\'s UP govt has made many recent moves to appease the Hindu community
  • Even in a case as serious as the Dadri lynching, the govt hasn\'t cracked down on the perpetrators

More in the story

  • Why a polarised UP actually suits Mulayam
  • Does he take the SP\'s Muslim vote bank for granted?

After the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had proclaimed: "We know who is behind this killing. We will spare no effort in nabbing the criminals... even if it means losing our government."

More than two months later, not all the accused are behind bars. In fact, six went absconding last week.

The ruling party's own Azam Khan threatened to take the matter to the United Nations. Khan, second only to CM Akhilesh Yadav in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet, conveniently forgot that his government was responsible for law and order.

Two years ago, when close to one lakh Muslims had to bear the brunt of winter in refugee tents after the Muzaffarnagar riots, Mulayam's village Saifai was studded with Bollywood stars for his birthday celebrations.

Why has the Samajwadi Party, the 'messiah' of Muslims in UP, turned a blind eye towards the community? Has its leader, often called 'Maulana Mulayam' for his Muslim-centric approach to politics, deserted his core constituency?

Cozying up to Hindus

The Dadri lynching sent a chill down the spine of the country. Politicians of all hues were queueing up to visit Akhlaq's family, but no SP leader went to Bishara village.

Must read: #DadriLynching was not communal: Rajnath & Akhilesh's doublespeak. And the case so far

So, what has changed? Obviously, the party has had to rethink its image after bagging just five seats out of 80 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Only Mulayam's family members won their seats.

The Akhilesh government's policies during the last one year suggest that the SP is keen to shed its pro-Muslim image and get closer to the Hindu vote bank.

Sample this statement by the party's general secretary, Ram Gopal Yadav, in the recent debate on intolerance in the Rajya Sabha: "India is the most tolerant country in the world. Some incidents are unnecessarily exaggerated. This is not right."

These are not words emanating from a BJP MP, but one from the SP.

Mulayam's worries about the party's prospects in the 2017 UP assembly elections have also led the UP government to launch many religious schemes.

Has Mulayam, often called 'Maulana' for his Muslim-centric politics, deserted his core constituency?

The state government commemorated its third anniversary on 15 March by announcing the 'Samajwadi Shravan Yatra Scheme'. Under this initiative, the state will bear all expenses of senior citizens' Char Dham pilgrimage. While launching the scheme, Akhilesh had said: "People think socialists are atheists. But, in reality, we have done more religious work than any other government."

On this occasion, the CM also gave away subsidy cheques for Rs 50,000 each to pilgrims who have returned from the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The government will give this subsidy to the pilgrims every year.

Akhilesh also launched ex-Bollywood actor Dino Morea's website 'i-bhakti' on the same day, whereby devotees can make online offerings to any temple in the state. UP also has seen a spate of temple restoration schemes after the 2014 elections.

All this directly points to a paradigm shift in the party's policy. "The SP is seeking to move away from Muslim-centric politics. The state government wants to prove that Muslims are not the only community on its agenda," says senior journalist Ratan Mani Lal.

Going soft on hardline Hindutva

Reaching out to Hindus through religious overtures is only one aspect of this makeover.

The Akhilesh government also seems to be giving a safe passage to hardline Hindutva elements. This raises questions over Mulayam's secular credentials.

Dalit thinker Kanwal Bharti says: "Despite a massive mandate, Mulayam Singh Yadav no longer supports Muslims in a manner that was visible in the nineties."

The BJP is usually the main beneficiary of polarisation. But politics of division suit the SP too

Bharti says the BJP's brand of politics suits Mulayam better, as it polarises Muslims in his favor. The strengthening of Hindutva forces benefits him and he wants it that way.

Mulayam has faced similar charges in the past. When Azam Khan was expelled from the party in 2009, he had said: "Mulayam has hidden the khaki knicker of the RSS beneath his dhoti."

The Yadavs of western Uttar Pradesh can certainly be considered 'hardliners' in the conventional sense of the word. They remain ideologically closer to the BJP; in regions like Agra and Mathura, Yadavs are the flagbearers of the BJP.

Yadavs have also been at the forefront of the cow protection movement. In fact, if it were just down to the present state of cow politics, the Yadavs would probably align with the BJP. What prevents them from doing that is the fact that their own caste controls the Samajwadi Party.

Also read: Blow to Bihar's grand alliance: the real reasons behind Mulayam's exit

According to Lal: "Communalism has always been a factor in the politics of UP. The support of Muslims and Dalits is not enough to form a government in the state. Every party needs the votes of a segment of Hindus, who are BJP supporters. The last general elections showed that Yadavs have also started to identify themselves with Hindu pride."

Since then, Mulayam has gone into damage-control mode. He has started praising the BJP at regular intervals, and ignored the advance of hardline Hindutva forces, in a bid to wash off the image of 'Maulana Mulayam'.

Mayawati's resurgence

Perhaps, Mulayam takes Muslim votes for granted. Sandeep Pandey, a social activist and vocal critic of the state government's policies, says: "Mulayam feels Muslims have no better option to defeat the BJP than the SP. This has made him overconfident of their support.

"The SP government has done nothing to stop communal riots, but it lost no time in distributing compensation. The only thing that differentiates it from previous governments is that it is prompt in giving compensation after every communal incident. It is a separate matter that it does little to contain the violence in the first place."

History tells us that riots can be prevented, or contained quickly, if the government really wants. Mayawati managed to maintain peace in the state after the judgement in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case.

And while the BJP is usually the primary beneficiary of communal polarisation, the politics of division suit the SP too.

The SP is also more comfortable taking on Mayawati's BSP than the BJP.

Muslims have their own misgivings about the BSP, although Mayawati never gave Hindutva forces a free run even when she was in alliance with the BJP.

As of 2014, there seemed only two major players in UP - the SP and the BJP. Pandering to their respective vote banks left no space for the BSP.

Also read: Mayawati under CBI scanner: is this part of BJP's Mission UP?

But with the BJP on the downswing at an organisational and leadership level, and the SP losing ground due to the poor law and order situation, people have started to remember Mayawati's reign with appreciation. The recent panchayat polls in UP indicated this.

"Local elections cannot be seen as a big signal. But Muslims may choose Mayawati over Mulayam, if BSP manages to project itself as a formidable challenger to the BJP," says Bharti.

The Yadav Singh factor

Among the apolitical reasons behind Mulayam's changed track, the primary one seems to be a fear of the CBI.

Yadav Singh, the former Noida chief engineer accused of graft, seems to have become a real booby trap for the SP - as is evident in the way it has gone out of its way to oppose the CBI probe against Singh.

Insiders claim Mulayam is only interested in preserving his family's political future under the current circumstances.

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First published: 8 December 2015, 12:06 IST
 
Abhishek Parashar @abhishekiimc

चीफ़ सब-एडिटर, कैच हिंदी. पीटीआई, बिज़नेस स्टैंडर्ड और इकॉनॉमिक टाइम्स में काम कर चुके हैं.

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