No one ever thought that the Samajwadi Party (SP) would head towards a split, nor anyone ever visualised that the SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was a wrestler in his youth, would lose his political weight so miserably. But ego vanquished over sagacity; Mulayam Singh Yadav, a seasoned politician who gave several veterans a run for their money in his 40-plus years of political career, failed to assess the clout of his own son, Akhilesh Yadav.
The SP patriarch read only the lips of his brother Shivpal Yadav, or to an extent, that of Amar Singh — the very reason of the internecine fight within the party. Yet it had not turned into a full-fledged war until December 28, 2016, when Mulayam Singh Yadav released an official list of 325 candidates in a press conference in Lucknow. While denying tickets to several of Akhilesh’s loyalists, the SP supremo also ruled out projecting his 43-year-old son as the chief ministerial candidate of the party.
Sensing it as a move to cut him short, Akhilesh turned against his father and rebelled. He released his own list of 235 candidates. Upset Mulayam Singh Yadav expelled Akhilesh Yadav and his cousin and Rajya Sabha member, Ram Gopal Yadav from the party. However, this expulsion order was revoked within 24 hours. Yet Akhilesh-Ram Gopal Yadav team was not prepared to cede any ground to Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav or Amar Singh; they were expelled from the party by Akhilesh Yadav.
In a convention called by Ram Gopal Yadav, the party also anointed Akhilesh Yadav as its national president while Naresh Uttam as the party’s state president, thereby hinting about the end of appeal and influences that Mulayam Singh Yadav once wielded over the party.
Will SP patriarch surrender before his son’s political might?
Mulayam Singh Yadav is a wily politician who will try his best to get back his aura as ‘Bhagwan’ (God) of the party. He will also ensure that Akhilesh Yadav does not occupy so much political space that his father is left redundant. To this effect, he has a few tricks up his sleeve and one of them is related to the party’s symbol, the ‘bicycle.’ The SP founder has made it clear that the party’s symbol belongs to him.
To pre-empt Akhilesh Yadav camp’s claim over the symbol, the 78-year-old leader has already approached the Election Commission (EC) and has laid claim over it. Therefore, the matter has now reached the EC’s court, which has a few yardsticks to decide as to how the symbol issue is resolved. However, before moving towards its resolution, the EC will have to be satisfied that there are rival sections of a recognised political outfit each of whom claims to be the right contender of the party symbol.
After it gets satisfied, the EC will have to determine which section has a majority on its side – the number of MPs, MLAs and other members. To prove the majority, each faction will have to submit an application signed by each MP, MLA and other members of that faction. After this, the EC starts hearing and meeting with each and every signatory, a long and arduous process which sometimes takes as much as six months to complete.
At a time when assembly election is due to be held next month, it is less likely that the EC will start its verification process. Which means, it is only after the election is over that the EC will resume the process of identifying the right claimants of the party symbol. In the interim period, the EC may either freeze the party symbol or provide temporary recognition to the two factions under names similar to the parent party. But it will not provide any of them the party’s original symbol in the meantime. And this is where lies the big, complex political knot, which Akhilesh may find hard to untie.
Fighting without the SP’s trademark ‘bicycle’ is full of risk, especially when the election is just one month away. In the Indian election system, it should be understood that a party is recognized by its followers through a symbol. Therefore, campaigning with an unrecognised, new electoral trademark by that party may create confusion among the followers. This is where Mulayam Singh Yadav may make his son run out of the luck to establish himself again as the ‘King of Awadh’.
Can Akhilesh accept the challenge thrown by his father?
On the face value, it appears that Akhilesh, who has emerged as a popular face of the SP camp, may not take things lying down. In 2012, the party had snatched victory away from the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, by sheer hard work and promises made by young and untested Akhilesh Yadav. He promised to provide clean and development oriented governance in Uttar Pradesh. Despite running his government by accommodating some not-so-popular politicians like Raja Bhaiya, this scion of Yadav family didn’t fare badly in projecting his image as a clean administrator.
In fighting within the SP, whether it were with regard to merger of the tainted leader Mukhtar Ansari-led Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the party or re-induction of Amar Singh or the recent spat on candidates’ list, Akhilesh has turned the tables and prevailed. He has emerged as the brand in the public lexicon; a brand which can be representative of the U.P electorate as a whole. Other than this, he has the charisma and ability to outmanoeuvre formidable challengers like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the BSP. There is a possibility, though, that his faction may align with the Congress or the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to become a rallying secular force; thereby, cornering Muslim votes in his group’s favour in the state.
Can Akhilesh avoid odds stacked against him?
Failure to take stern actions against thugs, criminals and blackmailers by his government in last four-plus years, has given opponents of Akhilesh an opportunity to attack his administrative ability on law and order front. Stark nepotism in the appointment of the state government jobs and filling all administrative posts, including that of Station House Officers (SHOs), with Yadavs, has not gone down well among the masses. Besides, there is a possibility that Shivpal Yadav and his supporters, or those not accommodated by Akhilesh Yadav in his party’s electoral list, may play truant with his faction’s electoral chances.
Politics is a game of possibilities. Especially in Uttar Pradesh where identity politics makes a march over ideology, ethics and even development during the elections. Akhilesh Yadav will not have an easy cake walk. However, if he loses the battle to grab the state’s hot seat again, it would be more due to infighting and family feud than the anti-incumbency factor. For the time being, though, if there are buzzes among the people in Uttar Pradesh, they are in favour of Akhilesh Yadav.