Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav took everyone by surprise on Wednesday, at the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha, by praising Narendra Modi and saying that he wanted to see him return as prime minister.
In light of the fact that Mulayam's son Akhilesh Yadav leads the SP, which is among the most vocal critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Modi, the aging leader's endorsement of Modi came as a veritable twist to the pre-Lok Sabha elections political scene.
The most immediate reactions were visible from the MPs of the BJP, who thumped the Treasury benches and shouted in support. Mulayam was seated next to UPA chairperson and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who first laughed at his words and then turned back to speak to National Congress Party leader Supriya Sule.
Right after leaving Parliament, Sule said, "I have heard that respected Mulayam Singh ji had said the same thing for Manmohan Singh ji in 2014."
Congress chief Rahul said he disagreed with Mulayam. "But Mulayam Singh Yadav has a role in politics and I respect his opinion," he told reporters in Delhi.
Rahul and Akhilesh's respective parties form integral parts of the mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, against the BJP. Akhilesh, especially, has been vocal in enticing Congress support for the SP-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
In the ranks of Mulayam's own party, the reactions ranged from avowed ignorance on the context and open dismissal. The former came from SP leader Ravidas Mehrotra, who said, "I don't have knowledge about the context in which Neta ji said it. But we want change of government at the Center. The prime minister will lose from his own constituency."
The latter came from SP founder member Azam Khan, who said Mulayam's praises for Modi were "not his own thoughts", and that he had been brainwashed.
SP MLA Shailendra Yadav, defended his party patriarch's statement saying, "He had given similar blessings to former prime minister Manmohan Singh ji. Now, Modi ji will also go."
Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MP and former SP leader Amar Singh said the remark in the Lok Sabha was "just to create confusion".
"This is just to create confusion to ensure that Chandrakala and Rama Raman, who looted Noida under the guidance of both Mulayam and Mayawati, are saved, and Modi ji gets neutralised," he said.
Mayawati had made Rama Raman the CEO of the Greater Noida Authority in 2010 and he rose in ranks under Akhilesh, till Yogi Adityanath booted the IAS officer out after becoming chief minister. IAS officer Chandrakala has been accused of corruption in an illegal mining case.
If the BJP was ecstatic in Parliament, then BJP workers on the ground were even happier with Mulayam's endorsement of Modi. By Thursday, BJP minority wing leader Taahir Hussain put up posters in Lucknow thanking Mulayam. They read, "Thank you Mulayam ji, you said what 125 crore people of the country feel."
Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya thanked Mulayam as did the state's Parliamentary affairs minister Suresh Khanna. State agriculture minister Surya Pratap Shahi, said, "With advancing age, a person starts speaking the truth."
Moreover, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy identified Mulayam as his "friend" and noted that the significance of his speech was that no one from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was acceptable as a prime ministerial candidate.
What is the significance of my friend speech LS today: No foreign remnants of Nehru dynasty acceptable to be PM and if forced he will side with Namo
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) February 13, 2019
BJP's national IT cell member Khemchand Sharma tweeted in recognition of the praise received by Modi.
On the News Today, BJP spokesperson calls Mulayam Singh on of the tallest leaders in the country; till yesterday, he was Maulana Mulayam who ordered firing on Kar-sewaks! Isse kehte hain waqt waqt kee rajneeti! — Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) February 13, 2019
Furthermore, there were several reactions from journalists who noted the shift this development would cause in the pre-poll trend. Rajdeep Sardesai claimed that when asked why he had said Modi should be re-elected, Mulayam had said, "Aisa toh kuch kaha hai hi nahi, bhai". He also pointed out the shift in the BJP's regard for Mulayam since his praise of Modi.
Journalist Abhijit Majumder tweeted on the role this development would play to the hopes of a grand alliance. "Maha-phat-bandhan ho gaya," he wrote.
Updated Date: Feb 14, 2019 13:25:17 IST