New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday inducted Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) party leader Ajit Singh into his cabinet in a move that is expected to reshape the political equations in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
The 72-year-old from the Jat community, who was handed the civil aviation portfolio, wields considerable influence among farmers in western Uttar Pradesh.
Ajit Singh’s cabinet induction came even as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati held a rally in the state on Sunday to woo Muslims, a key votebank whose support was crucial in scripting a win for her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the last state polls in 2007, demanding increased reservations for the socially backward among them.
Mint’s Anuja tells us what the expansion of the UPA cabinet could mean politically
The third cabinet expansion this year by Manmohan Singh comes a week after the RLD formally joined the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). That poll-bound Uttar Pradesh figured prominently among the reasons for the tie-up was made clear by Ajit Singh himself.
“Our mind now is on Uttar Pradesh (UP). The people of UP are feeling oppressed with the Mayawati government, but are now getting an alternative. The people have now got a clear-cut alternative” in a Congress-RLD combine, Singh told reporters after taking his oath of office at Rashtrapati Bhawan. He said the “wave” generated in Uttar Pradesh due to the tie-up will be felt across the country.
According to media reports, the RLD is likely to contest about 45 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly. It has 10 legislators in the present assembly. The Congress on its part is hoping to improve on its performance in 2007, when it won only 22 seats—one of its worst electoral perfomances in the state.
Taking charge: Ajit Singh (left) and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Sunday.(PTI)
Analysts say Ajit Singh’s entry into the UPA will have an impact on the political equations in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to Parliament. It is popularly held that the route to power in New Delhi goes through Uttar Pradesh.
“Ajit Singh does have a pocketed base in western Uttar Pradesh; he might add to the Congress kitty in western UP, but it would be limited only to that,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst and psephologist.
With the RLD joining the ruling coalition, the UPA’s strength in the Lok Sabha has gone up from 272 to 277 in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Mrug said the addition of five members will “greatly bolster” the UPA in Parliament. “It will get the UPA more lung power in the Parliament, but it would not add much to the floor coordination.”
Meanwhile, Mayawati on Sunday demanded reservation of college sets and government jobs for backward Muslims, seeking an amendment to the Constitution, if necessary, for the pupose.
“The BSP government favours quota for Muslims. The Centre should amend the Constitution and increase the 27% quota of other backward castes to include Muslims in it. Our party will support it,” Mayawati said at a rally.
Reservation of seats for the poor and socially backward in educational institutions and government jobs is part of India’s affirmative action efforts, but politicians have often invoked it to gain political advantage over their rivals. Mayawati herself is from the Dalit community, which is among the socially most backward in India.
Mayawati also used the rally to slam the Congress party.
“In the Congress regime, the country witnessed maximum riots, which had a deep impact on the minds of Muslims. The community had to live in fear for 40 years in Congress rule in the state,” the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said, adding that in contrast, the BSP had given the maximum number of tickets to Muslims in Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
Mint’s Anuja and PTI contributed to this story.