Riots threaten Mulayam’s rainbow coalition

NEW DELHI (TIP): The Muzaffarnagar riots threaten to bring apart the ambitious social coalition that Mulayam Singh Yadav has been attempting with aggressive polarization politics and anti-quota rhetoric. The post-riot anger among Muslims has raised serious questions about their continuance in the Samajwadi tent. If the grievance persists among Muslims that the Akhilesh Yadav regime deliberately let the situation turn riotous, it could knock out a major component of the rainbow coalition that Mulayam has been eyeing. Taking Muslim support for granted as also OBCs, Mulayam recently embarked on a strategy to win over a chunk of upper castes to improve his chances in the 2014 elections. Turning his back on his Mandalite past, Mulayam opposed ‘reservation quota’ for dalits despite a large consensus in its favour in Parliament, a move designed as an olive branch for upper castes. In fact, Muslims, OBCs and upper castes are united in their hostility to quota.

The Samajwadis are troubled at how the situation has panned out after riots, with no group happy with the state government. Given the extent of loss to the minorities, it remains an uphill task to convince the community otherwise. SP insiders believe the situation can be retrieved with exemplary action against rioters, most of whom named are from the BJP. Else, the party is staring at largescale desertion by the loyal minority base without any gain among upper castes who may be more amenable to appeals from BJP, and in parts to BSP and Congress. This would dash the hopes of the Samajwadi camp which has believed that communal tensions were not bad for its politics, the thinking drawing from the Ayodhya years when “secular” competitors like Congress and BSP were edged out. The Mulayam camp calculated that the advent of Narendra Modi on the national scene would push Muslims into a tighter embrace since its massive assembly triumph in 2012 had positioned it as the main challenger to BJP. The dip in Congress fortunes nationally only bolstered this belief. These calculations are being reviewed after the riots. Observers believe the angry minorities may see merit in BSP which has a stronger organization in western UP and, to some extent, Congress – defying traditional assumptions. Worse for SP could be the threat on the Hindu side. While upper castes may prefer non-SP parties, a polarized polity could even dent the Samajwadi’s Hindu backward caste base. A worried SP is eagerly looking to find a way out of the hole that the riots have dug for the party ahead of the 2014 polls.

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