Illustration: Manjul / DNA
LUCKNOW: For UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, the 31st anniversary of the Emergency was an occasion to embarrass the Congress. He honoured political prisoners detained under the "draconian" MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and DIR (Defence of India Rules) laws during the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 26, 1975.
"I want to caution the country against Sonia Gandhi's evil designs. She could emulate her mother-in-law and declare Emergency again to divert people's attention from the price rise, unprecedented hike in fuel prices and unemployment," Mulayam declared at the overcrowded "Apaat-kaal Rajnaitik Bandi Sammelan" (convention of political prisoners under the Emergency rule).
The 5,000-odd "Emergency sufferers" would get a monthly allowance of Rs 500 and also be entitled to free travel with one companion in state roadways buses. The chief minister said they are "as honourable as freedom fighters". He evoked thunderous applause when he said: "Emergency ke khilaaf yeh azaadi ki doosri ladaai thee… Aap logon ne loktantra ki asli ladaai ladi hai…" (Your fight against Emergency was the second freedom movement. You have fought the real battle for democracy.)
Most of Mulayam's 45-minute speech targeted Sonia Gandhi and the Congress. His latest move has, however, given opposition parties grist for criticism. It is no secret that most of those arrested during Emergency under MISA and DIR were RSS cadres. Apparently, Mulayam is aiming at earning the goodwill of the RSS which has a strong support among urban voters. The decline of the saffron force in UP has left this essentially BJP votebank groping for an alternative. "This scheme exposes what we have been saying all along. Mulayam has a secret nexus with the BJP and the RSS," state Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh told DNA. BJP spokesman Surjit Singh Dang remained non-committal, only saying that party leaders had decided to stay away from the event.
Mulayam had sent out personal invitations to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and BJP president Rajnath Singh. But if the purpose of raising the Emergency bogey was to replicate the 1977 experiment, Mulayam must have been sadly disappointed. Post-Emergency, the Janata Party and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh joined forces against the Congress and came to power. But on Monday none of the national-level leaders he invited, save NDA convenor George Fernandes, turned up.