Mulayam, enigmatic as ever

Not even his closest aides have a clue how Mulayam Singh Yadav will move in the wake of the DMK's pullout from the UPA. Keeping everyone guessing is characteristic of the wily politician whenever the stakes are high, as is the case now with the Congress-led government's survival depending on what he chooses to do.

How close he keeps his cards to his chest, leaving even close aides in the dark, was on display during and after the standoff with Beni Prasad Verma. The Congress minister had launched a personal attack on Mulayam, the outrage that followed culminated in an apology by Kamal Nath, and Mulayam indicated to party members that the matter was settled.

The matter did appear closed until Wednesday, by when the DMK's pullout had apparently taken precedence. Samajwadi Party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav was all over TV channels in the morning about the Congress's arrogance towards supporting parties, but made no mention of the Verma episode.

He was taken by surprise when Mulayam called that very morning and asked him to marshall his flock in the Rajya Sabha and disrupt proceedings demanding Verma's removal. In the Lok Sabha, Mulayam approached Sushma Swaraj, urging her to go beyond the role of a BJP leader, act like the leader of the opposition she is, and pin the government down on Verma's remarks. Sushma readily obliged.

It sent the government into a tailspin. Following a series of meetings, government managers forced Verma to express regret for his remarks, while Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde all made personal efforts to placate Mulayam. Even after that, the instruction stayed SP members were not to allow either House to function for the day, and they ensured that.

Having resolved to authorise Mulayam to take the appropriate decision at the appropriate time, party members remain clueless whether they will end up pulling the rug if Beni is not sacked or whether they will let it be. They guess that the issue is still "alive", though only Mulayam knows.

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