Will Mulayam Singh Yadav share the stage with bitter rival Mayawati at Mainpuri on April 19? The buzz in Lucknow is that the SP patriarch is doing a rethink about being seen with the BSP chief on the same dais in the heart of Yadav territory.

It seems Mulayam has been getting negative feedback from his clansmen in Mainpuri. His core voters have flexed their muscles to convey that their Netaji doesn’t need appeals from anyone, especially Mayawati, to win his home seat. They have sent word to the SP leadership that it will be seen as a sign of weakness if Mulayam demeans himself by standing next to Mayawati as she asks for votes for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.

According to the Lucknow grapevine, it was Mayawati who suggested Mainpuri as one of the 11 venues for a joint rally of the three gathbandhan leaders – Akhilesh Yadav, Ajit Singh and of course, herself. Political circles feel that her suggestion to campaign in Mulayam’s home base should have rung a warning bell in Akhilesh’s head. But the SP chief seems to be unable to say no to the mercurial Dalit icon who is clearly the senior partner in the alliance.

Political circles are keeping a close watch on Mainpuri to see what happens. There is speculation that Mulayam may not show up at the rally to be spared further criticism from his Yadav voters. There is also speculation that the rally may be cancelled at the last moment to save the gathbandhan leaders an embarrassing moment if Mulayam stays away. Even more embarrassing would be if Mulayam speaks out of turn, like he did on the last day of Parliament when he told the Lok Sabha that he wanted to see Narendra Modi back as prime minister.

Mulayam is on record criticising Akhilesh for allying with Mayawati for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

Ill-timed announcement?

While astrologers are divided on the outcome of the 2019 polls, there seems to be unanimity that the timing of the announcement of election dates was inauspicious.

The Election Commission held its press conference at 5 pm on March 10. According to the chart that maps the movement of planets on a daily basis, the inauspicious period that day was from 4:55 pm to 6:22 pm.

This period is called rahu kaal and all astrologers believe that any exercise undertaken at that time is doomed to fail or will run into rough weather. Astrologers in the south are particularly vehement about rahu kaal must be avoided at all costs, which is why political parties from that region are privately perturbed.

Some astrologers have predicted that the elections will be very volatile because of the inauspicious timing of the announcement. They have also predicted the possibility of more tension between India and Pakistan during the polling period.

Raid pressure

The recent income tax raid on retired Dalit IAS officer and Mayawati confidante Net Ram seems to have rattled the BSP chief. Within hours of the raid, she suddenly summoned a press conference at which she took pot shots at the Congress. She also announced that the Congress was not part of the UP gathbandhan and that her party BSP would not ally with the Congress anywhere in the country.

These were odd statements for Mayawati to make because no-one had asked her about an alliance with the Congress outside UP. The buzz in political circles is that she felt compelled to distance herself from the party the BJP is most bitterly opposed to after Net Ram was raided.

The significance of the IT investigations into Net Ram’s financial dealings is huge. Net Ram was principal secretary to Mayawati during her tenure as chief minister from 2007-2012. He was shunted out to an insignificant post after Akhilesh Yadav took over as CM in 2012. He retired in 2014 and has been functioning as an advisor to Mayawati since then.

He was up for a BSP ticket to contest from Faizabad this time. But after the raid, it seems Mayawati is doing a rethink about nominating him as a candidate.

IT authorities contend that Net Ram has evaded paying tax of around Rs 100 crore and has disproportionate assets running into hundreds of crores. Mayawati is obviously worried because much of this income is supposed to have been acquired while he was posted in her secretariat.

Interestingly, Net Ram retired in 2014 but for the past five years, the IT department has not moved against him. Consequently, the timing of the raids arouses suspicions as they happened just before the Lok Sabha polls. Are the raids part of a strategy to keep Mayawati under pressure? Certainly, both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav feel that they are politically motivated.

Cold shoulder

Congress circles are puzzled by Mayawati’s behavior. Over the last few weeks, she has stopped taking phone calls from Congress interlocutors who were in touch with her on a regular basis till recently.

She is believed to have conveyed that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Congress. Nor does she want to talk to any of its leaders, not even Sonia Gandhi with whom she otherwise has a good relationship.

However, she is in regular communication with Akhilesh Yadav. Bua-bhatija seem to have established a good rapport. But ties with the Congress have soured.