Mulayam plays hardball with Congress
New Delhi, March 20 : Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose support to the UPA government has become crucial after the DMK's exit from the coalition, appears to be striking a hard bargain with the ruling Congress.
Though the Congress Wednesday said the "ego war" between Beni Prasad Verma and Mulayam Singh Yadav was almost over with the steel minister expressing regret over his remarks, the SP chief refused to say the issue had been resolved.
"The SP parliamentary party will met Thursday morning to decide on Verma's regret," SP MP Shailendra Kumar told reporters.
Yadav has been demanding Verma's sack, indicating that the issue might not be resolved soon.
Verma's resignation was sought after he publicly rebuked Yadav. SP members alleged that Verma said Yadav received "commission" for supporting the central government. Earlier at a rally in his constituency in Uttar Pradesh, Verma reportedly said Yadav had links with terrorists.
The SP chief, known to be a tough bargainer, also met NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar as part of his plans to forge a coalition of regional parties in the event of a fragmented Lok Sabha after the 2014 general election results.
The SP, with 22 members in the Lok Sabha, is crucial for the survival of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, especially after the DMK, which has 18 MPs, quit Tuesday over the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils.
The government however claimed it had the support of 278 Lok Sabha members out of the 543.
Yadav's importance for the Congress can be gauged from the fact that it took UPA Chairperson and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to walk up to him in the lower house of parliament and apologise for Verma's remarks.
Gandhi, who was present in the Lok Sabha and watching the new bonhomie between the SP, an outside supporter of the government, and opposition BJP, walked up to Yadav's seat soon after the house was adjourned around noon.
A few minutes earlier, BJP member and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj had sought Verma's resignation over his comments and asked for the matter to be referred to the privileges committee.
The SP-Congress relationship has been through many ups and downs in the past few months with Yadav flexing his muscles by declaring candidates for the 2014 general elections and repeatedly asking party workers to be ready for early polls.
But he also played a key role in bailing out the UPA when ally Trinamool Congress walked out over the issue of economic reforms in September 2012.
Verma Wednesday expressed "regret" over his comments after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Earlier, the Congress also rebuffed him for the said remarks. But Verma denied making such a statement.
"I never gave such a statement that they (the SP) get commissions for supporting the government. Still, if anyone's feelings were hurt because of what I said, I express regret," Verma told reporters.
Before the Lok Sabha met, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said: "I expressed regret over the matter day before yesterday (Monday) in the house. They (SP) have not raised the issue after that. I met them yesterday (Tuesday) and they are satisfied and the matter is closed".
Verma and Yadav were considered close till 2009 before he left the SP to join the Congress.