Lucknow: In middle of last year's high-octane Lok Sabha campaign, Narendra Modi had thumped his "chappan inch ka seena" (56-inch chest) and had taken pot shots at Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, saying he did not have it in him to make Uttar Pradesh a developed state like Gujarat.
On Friday, at a public rally in Saharaswa in western Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Modi called the Yadav chieftain a "respected leader" and vouched for his credentials as a champion of democracy! While the wholesome praise by its tallest leader left BJP leaders present on the stage and even in the state capital squirming in their chairs, the underlying political message was not missed by any.
While it is almost impossible that the two forces would ever come together in the future, political observers here say that for now "dono taraf hai aag barabar lagi hui" (it's a romance from both sides). For the BJP, parliamen's upper house has become an Achilles heel as many bills are stuck in wake of an adamant Congress, which enjoys a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
Other than that, the BJP needs Mulayam Yadav to further electorally dent the 'maha-gathbandhan' in poll-bound Bihar. Many see it not as a mere coincidence that a day after Mulayam Yadav and his cousin Ram Goapl Yadav drove into 7, Race Course Road for a meeting with Modi that SP broke ranks with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav and announced that it would contest all 243 seats in Bihar.
While Mulayam's Samajwadi Party does not enjoy much support in Bihar, his walking out of the Samajwadi umbrella group has definitely given an edge to the NDA in matters of perception, and the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh, with its past base of 2-3 percent votes, will certainly eat into the Yadav-Muslim combine that would have otherwise voted for Nitish Kumar (JD-U) and Lalu Prasad (RJD).
A little after a year, Uttar Pradesh will go to polls and in all likelihood, the SP might not return to power. With poor law and order, the power crisis, growing crimes against women, debt-ridden farmers and communal riots, Mulayam Yadav needs a 'shoulder' post-2017 when his party might be caught in the political doldrums.
Adding to his woes is the CBI probe into the alleged corruption of tainted Noida chief engineer Yadav Singh.
Only recently it has been found that Ram Gopal Yadav's son and party MP from Firozabad Akshay Pratap held over 9000 shares in a company co-owned by the tainted engineer. The SP desperately needs support from the centre to keep the premier investigative agency off its back.
By praising Mulayam Yadav, Modi has also succeeded in confusing the Muslim voters. "He has once again tricked many. Now Mulayam will be accused of hobnobbing with the BJP and the minority vote would split between SP-BSP and Congress, giving an edge to the saffron camp," a party veteran said.
For the BJP, Modi has only set the agenda of "further isolating the Congress" in parliament and also "ensuring that the so called 'maha-gathbandhan' secular formation in Bihar crumbled further". By heaping praise on the Yadav chieftain, Modi was neither walking down on his earlier attack on the former Uttar Pradesj chief minister but was only "cosying up with him for potential floor management in the Rajya Sabha", a party leader said sheepishly.
"Mulayam Singh did a good thing in parliament so Modi-ji praised him. We however, have ideological differences as a political entity," BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur
Pathak said. Asked if this could confuse its traditional voters, he answered in the negative. "The people of UP are wise enough. Every day Mulayam Singh is tearing into the government run by his son....eventually the SP will be packed-off bag-and-baggage in 2017," Pathak told IANS.
Samajwadi spokesman and cabinet minister Rajendra Chowdhary saw it is an "individual reference" and "nothing beyond (that)".
While one would have to wait for some time to see if the bonhomie was a 'one-night political stand' or a long-term political strategy, for now, Modi has succeeded in stirring up the rumour mills in Uttar Pradesh.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)