Mulayam Singh Yadav has sewn up his election game plan in Kolkata and says those elections can happen before 2014. And though he has clearly taken a lead in cobbling together a non-Congress and non-BJP alternative, he insisted today that any Third Front would take shape only after the next Lok Sabha elections.
Mr Yadav has made no bones about the fact that after his party's spectacular showing in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, he is eyeing a bigger role for his party at the Centre. Asked if he was in the running for being the next Prime Minister, the veteran politician said, "I am not in line, but I am not a sadhu-sant
The Samajwadi Party, he said, would fight elections alone. "The Third Front can happen only after the polls. It will depend on the situation," Mr Yadav said. He also refused to say who of the two West Bengal rivals, the Left and Mamata Banerjee, would be part of such a Front, merely stating that, "We will keep good relations with all parties." Mulayam Singh Yadav has for years had political affinity with the Left parties and has joined hands with them on several issues like FDI in retail and the coal allocation scam in recent times.
But the Yadavs, Mulayam and son, Akhilesh, have also indicated during the Kolkata sojourn that they are willing to explore new equations. Mr Yadav said today that he had the greatest regard for Ms Banerjee and described a meeting between her and son Akhilesh yesterday as "very good talks." After the meeting Mr Yadav junior had said, "After coming to Kolkata, I would not have felt good not meeting Didi. It was necessary to meet her." Just a few months ago, the Congress managed to blunt a growing closeness between Mr Yadav and Ms Banerjee ahead of the Presidential elections. Ms Banerjee partners the Congress at the Centre, but that relationship has been at breakpoint for some time now.
A common political imperative binds Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav - both would like early elections to consolidate on their big wins in their respective states. In the first flush of victory and from a position of strength they know that they are likely to do much better now than after two years, when the honeymoon period is well over and anti-incumbency factors set in. Ms Banerjee swept the Assembly elections in West Bengal last year; Mr Yadav's Samjawadi Party won UP early this year.
What Mr Yadav was startlingly unambiguous about today was where exactly he stood in his equation with the Congress, that leads the UPA government at the Centre.
"Let me make it clear, the Samajwadi Party does not support the UPA government. The Samajwadi Party is against communalism. If the Congress is weakening and needs support against communalism, we may provide that support." Not words of comfort for the ruling party which depends heavily on Mr Yadav to bail it out at crucial moments. Mr Yadav's assertion today that "the situation is such there may be elections earlier than 2014," makes it worse.
For three days in Kolkata, where his party is holding a convention, Mr Yadav has appeared determined to prove he's on a different team. Yesterday he had slammed the Congress for financial scams, especially the coal swindle that has forced the government on the defensive amid allegations of entrenched corruption. This after referring to his Samajwadi Party as the opposition on Monday.
That distancing from the Congress continued today when he said that both the national parties - the Congress and the BJP have weakened and are plagued by issues. He said that he would not field a candidate in Congress president Sonia Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli as a return of favour for the Congress not contesting against his daughter-in-law Dimple in the Kannauj by-election a few months ago, but would not promise the same in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi's constituency. His party colleagues had made things rather awkward yesterday by saying that they saw little political ability in Rahul Gandhi. Today Mr Yadav wished Mr Gandhi much luck.
(With PTI inputs)