'Rahul Gandhi is not good enough. He cannot run the country. Look for options beyond him.' This, in short, is what senior Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh conveyed without saying as much today. It by far is the most brutal attack on the Congress general secretary, who his party leaders believe would someday play the great deliverer for them, from a supposedly friendly party. And its implications are hard to ignore.
To begin with, it means the UPA-Samajwadi Party marriage of convenience is over. The latter may not bail the UPA government out with its numbers next time it is in a crisis. It also points to a sharp deterioration in the Congress-Samajwadi Party relations at the leadership level. Mohan Singh would not have made such a blistering statement on someone whom the Congress holds so precious without the approval of his party chief Mulayam Singh.
It also means that the third front idea is alive and kicking. It’s not clear yet how the Samajwadi Party chief would stitch together a non-UPA, non-NDA political formation, but over the last two days he has left nobody in doubt about his intention. It should leave both the UPA and the NDA worried. Both had virtually ruled out the feasibility of a third formation. If some of their allies find the third alternative more viable they might jump the ship or keep the threat of it dangling on their bigger partners. This promises to make life more difficult both for the Congress and the BJP.
Mulayam sees no hope in the UPA as it is mired in corruption allegations and has no hope of a revival anytime soon. He feels the BJP has lost the ability to grow. He said yesterday that neither of the alliances these parties head could think of coming to power without support from parties from outside. A combination of parties outside the existing alliances thus could be a formidable force. Given the messy equations within the UPA and the NDA, his idea does not look out of place, at least theoretically.
However, the reality is, the non-UPA and non-NDA parties are too scattered and too disparate to form into a cohesive unit. If at all the third front comes into being and it manages to touch the 100 mark, it could be in a position to be kingmaker at the best, this if it remains a stable block. Mulayam seems to be relying on a post-election scenario where some of the UPA constituents will abandon the alliance and veer towards the third front since they have either have ideological problems with the the BJP-led NDA or have their rivals at the state level in that alliance already.
In such a situation, the Congress—which is likely to suffer most in the polls—will stand isolated. Mulayam seems to be sending out the message to the Congress's allies in the UPA. His attack on Rahul Gandhi is thus deliberate. However, for all this to happen Mulayam needs to secure a good number of seats. Obviously, seats only from Uttar Pradesh, his stronghold, won't suffice. So he has to collect seats from other states too. That explains his call to party members to "strengthen the party beyond Uttar Pradesh".
So far, only the CPI has shown some interest in Mulayam’s call for the third front. The entire Left, virtually marginalised in the country's politics at this point, is likely to join in some time later. They are naturally allies for the Samajwadi Party chief since none of their leaders harbour the ambition to be the prime minister of the country. However, the combined strength of the Left and SP is not enough to make third front a strong force. Both have to find more allies at the state level before the elections. In a bid not to put off possible allies, the SP today said no prime minister candidate will be named before the third front is formed. That again is a clever ploy not to put off allies.
Given the history of third fronts in the country, there’s not much hope from this effort. But Mulayam's efforts add an interesting dimension to the political mess in the country.