In the current round of allegations, Mayawati claims that she has a ‘list’ of eight sitting SP mlas who have parted with as much as Rs 1.53 crore for Mulayam’s “personal projects”. The names of these mlas that Mayawati herself confirmed to Outlook are—Bhagwati Singh, Arun Shankar Shukla, Ahmad Hassan, Ram Asre Vishwakarma, Ram Sharan Das, Ram Karan Yadav, Kashi Nath Yadav and Daya Ram Prajapati. Part of this fund was released as recently as on January 25 this year.
As soon as the latest spool in the SP’s “tape propaganda” was out, the UP CM went in for the simplest damage-limitation exercise: a counter-offensive. Her government ordered an inquiry into the monies paid by the mlas to Mulayam. “We will expose the SP-Congress design to malign our leader,” said a Mayawati aide deputed to brief Outlook. All this is to “counter and neutralise” the effect of the tapes in which Mayawati has been shown using considerably foul language against Hindu gods, much to the embarrassment of her ally, the BJP.
What has been underplayed, however, is the part in the tape where Mayawati is accusing Mulayam of “collecting” money from an industrial house through his “friend and party colleague” Amar Singh. “Like the Congress and BJP, the SP also collects money from business houses. Mulayam does it through Amar Singh,” she says in the recording.
Not too many dark secrets will survive the BSP leader’s Maha Pardaphash Rally on April 14 in Lucknow designed to “expose Mulayam”. Through the week, all else has been at a standstill as the state capital makes hectic preparations for this show of strength when, as Mayawati has promised, “Mulayam’s sins will be displayed to the public.”
The SP, of course, has a readymade self-defence. “Even if he took money, it was for public service. Mulayam Singhji has built a school. What is the mlas’ money meant for if not for schools and hospitals in the state? We’re not building brothels out there,” quips SP leader Amar Singh. Surprisingly, support for the SP has come from within the BJP. The party’s central unit, with the Tehelka sting not too distant in memory, has made its stand clear with spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s statement that “tapes and CDs have no room in politics”. The state leaders too are far from happy over the murky turn of events.
Although no state BJP leader has come out in the open against Mayawati for fear of inviting the displeasure of the central leadership, the derogatory contents of the SP tapes, they feel, have harmed the BJP more than Mayawati. The tapes show the UP CM publicly denigrating Hindu gods. “Gaon mein to kutta bhi devata hota hai. Woh pehle ja ke gangajal chadhata hai aur phir devata ka prasad khata hai. Jo devata apni raksha nahin kar sakta woh aapko kya dega? (In our villages even dogs are gods. They too make offerings of holy water and eat up the prasad. When these gods can’t even protect themselves, what can they do for you?),” Mayawati says in the tapes.
Her tirade has considerably “anguished” senior BJP leaders but they have refrained from coming out against the high command which insists on continuing its support to the Bahujan Samaj Party. “I don’t know how people interpret her diatribe against gods and goddesses, Lord Ram and other deities. But I am very hurt by such public denigration of our gods,” says a senior BJP leader from UP.
This apart, he also does not see anything wrong with the MLAs having given money to Mulayam: “All these MLAs that Mayawati has named have not given money for Mulayam’s relatives or for his own benefit. I don’t see anything wrong if he used the funds for building a school. So far as the tapes are concerned, I think they have hit the BJP the hardest. The SP may not have rocked our boat in UP, but they have certainly succeeded in alienating our frustrated supporters. The alliance with the BSP was the biggest mistake the BJP could have made in UP.”
While even SP leaders did not expect the Mayawati tapes to rock the BJP-BSP alliance, they are happy that the BJP is embarrassed and that the Congress has gone “soft” on Mulayam. “Thank you Mayawati!” exclaims a sarcastic Amar Singh. “We now have the Congress also supporting our moves in UP. The BJP is scared. It suits us fine. None of her allegations will have any impact.”
Ironically, the tapes have consolidated political polarisation in UP. Amar Singh claims that even former CM Kalyan Singh is backing the anti-Mayawati campaign. He, however, brushes aside reports that Kalyan is aligning with the SP to eventually bargain for his reinduction into the BJP. “Kalyan Singhji has been with us throughout. He supported us in the by-elections as well. All this is the BJP’s rumour-mongering,” says Amar Singh, dismissively.
Indeed, despite his nonchalance, Mulayam’s right-hand man seems upset by Mayawati’s barb that he is his mentor’s main money collector. “What can I do if I am rich or have powerful friends? How can I help it?” he asks. And almost as if to prove a point, he helped former Youth Congress president M.S. Bitta organise a star-studded meet in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan on April 9. Besides industrialist Anil Ambani’s wife Tina Ambani, Amitabh Bachchan, wife Jaya Bachchan and son-in-law Nikhil Nanda, supercop K.P.S. Gill and businessman Lalit Suri, the function was also attended by former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mulayam Singh Yadav.
On her part, Mayawati supporters maintain that the SP tapes have left her unaffected. According to them, the tapes reveal nothing new. “We came to power with the slogan ‘Tilak, Taraazu aur Talwar, inko maro joote char’. Our movement against the Manuwadi system has always been the core of our struggle. So what’s so sensational about these tapes?” says a BSP spokesperson.
As of now, all eyes are on Mayawati’s April 14 rally. For the UP CM, money is no constraint. A sum of Rs 6 lakh has been paid in advance to the railways to run four special trains to ferry party workers to Lucknow. Arrangements have also been made to charter a plane to transport the ‘national media’ corps. BSP workers claim that it’s going to be the largest show of strength ever organised by the party. “We will show the world that the Dalits are still solidly behind their leader. This rally will also prove how corrupt the SP leaders are,” says a BSP leader in Delhi.
Dalit politicians, including those who oppose Mayawati, seem more clinical in their political assessment. Says Dalit leader Udit Raj, “Corruption per se is no longer a crime in politics. It has a caste angle too. The more you attack Mayawati by saying she is corrupt, the stronger she emerges. What should have been brought out is how her corruption hurts the Dalits. After all, the money she’s collecting for the party is meant for development, for schools and hospitals for the poor. But that has not come out. So, if you are just implying that she’s corrupt, it makes no dent on her votebank.”
So, will the videotapes and sleaze campaigns turn the tide in UP? As far as Mayawati is concerned, they won’t. But if the SP plays dirty, she just won’t sit back and watch. She’ll rally.