Who are the smartest politicians in the country today? They have to be arch Uttar Pradesh rivals Mulayam Singh and Mayawati.
Forget the lack of oratorical brilliance, intellectual gravitas and fidelity to principles in both, and their history of ideological promiscuity, when it comes to political wheeling and dealing they are the canniest. They know how to leverage their advantages in a tricky political scenario and wrest the best bargain. The decision of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to bail the UPA government both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is the latest example of that.
There’s a very thin line between the politics of opportunism and the politics of pragmatism. Indeed, it is difficult to tell both apart in the present political scenario where parties tend to take an adversarial position on issues compulsively, making ideology a matter of expedience. The flip-flops by the Congress and the BJP on FDI depending whether they occupied the treasury bench or the opposition bench are a stark reminder. The difference between opportunism and pragmatism is only perceptional. Both Mulayam and Mayawati are matured practitioners of the politics of both.
Why would they raise the bogey of 'secularism' whenever it is convenient to them? Well, the answer is rooted in the political ground reality of their state. Both perceive the BJP to be a greater threat than the Congress. The BJP has the organisational capacity to upstage them electorally. If it finds a religion-based emotive issue and plays it up, it is best placed to reap the advantage of the subsequent communal polarisation. The support for the party, in such a case, would easily overarch considerations of caste and other non-religious identities.
In case of a polarisation, the SP becomes the other automatic beneficiary - Muslim votes veer towards it. However, the gains would not be strong enough to offset the damage inflicted on other votes. The BSP has a stable vote bank in the form of Dalits. It would like to keep its core base engaged with the concern of victimisation and social justice and not get swayed by other considerations, specifically religious ones.
The Congress, with a poor organisational structure in the state, poses no such threat. So it becomes easy for them to do business with it, enter into negotiations and drive hard bargains. The allegation that they succumb all the time because of the Union government’s threat to use CBI against them is bunkum. Both Mulayam and Mayawati are politicians with keen sense of grassroots politics.
Coming back to the outrage over FDI in multi-brand retail, it was not an issue that warranted such hardline political positioning, particularly after the government making it amply clear that the decision whether to go for FDI is in the domain of the state assemblies. The government was in trouble because of numbers. Any pragmatic state level party would use the situation to extract some benefits for their state. Mamata Banerjee has virtually closed the doors on any benefits for her state from the Centre by making FDI a personal ego issue. Mayawati and Mulayam—the BSP abstained from voting in Lok Sabha and voted for the UPA in Rajya Sabha while the SP abstained in both—were quick to seize the opportunity.
Don’t be surprised if the government agrees to a proposal that helps Mayawati strengthen her Dalit base—it could help push the bill on quota in promotion for government employees of the ST/SC category too—or a special package for Uttar Pradesh which will make Mulayam happy. It’s difficult to raise the question of principles here. Not all parties supporting the government and opposing it were guided by any principle, they were just following the leader of the herd, with larger political gameplans on mind.
Ideally, it would have been perfect had all the parties taken independent positions on the matter, not along UPA, NDA lines. That scenario out of picture, the best way was to go pragmatic. Both Mulayam and Mayawati went that way. There’s no reason to believe that they would not do business with the BJP when the situation suits them. They are, after all, smart politicians.