Lucknow: Even by the raucous political standards of Uttar Pradesh, the drama that unfolded during a meeting of the ruling Samajwadi Party on Monday was unprecedented. After being rebuffed by father and party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, in his quest for support against uncle Shivpal Yadav, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav found himself jostled and the microphone in his hand wrested away by his uncle and arch-rival who then proceeded to denounce him as a liar. Though Mulayam managed to get both Akhilesh and Shivpal to embrace each other, the former left the venue visibly shaken.
For the 25-year-old party that is now staring at the question of its very survival in the upcoming election, a point of no return has been reached. The battle-lines are now drawn within as much as without and it is hard to tell which set is more formidable.
Personal aspirations were always a problem in the Yadav family with Shivpal nursing the dream of becoming chief minister. In 2012, he lost out to Mulayam’s son and then had to swallow his bitterness again two years later when his own son, Aditya, lost out to to cousin Ramgopal Yadav’s son, Akshay Yadav, in getting the party ticket for the relatively safe seat of Firozabad. Of late, however, Shivpal has been on the ascendant, especially after his ally, Amar Singh, returned to the party (and the Rajya Sabha) after being expelled six years ago.
The ongoing tussle within the party pits Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh on one side against Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam’s cousin, Ram Gopal Yadav, on the other.
The flashpoint came September when Akhilesh removed UP chief secretary Deepak Singhal and two ministers, Gayatri Prasad Prajapati and Rajkishore Singh, all of whom were considered close to Shivpal. When Shivpal got Mulayam to remove Akhilesh as state president of the party, Akhilesh stripped Shivpal of key portfolios – only to be forced to restore them soon after.
In the past 48 hours the SP has gone from being a party that confidently claimed it would break the 27-year-old ruling party jinx in UP and come back to power – to fighting for its very survival.
On Sunday morning, Ram Gopal wrote a letter from Mumbai targeting Shivpal as ‘vyabhichari’, and accusing him of amassing crores of rupees and misusing power. Akhilesh then met SP legislators and spoke his heart out. His open challenge was that those supporting Amar Singh would not be able to remain in party. He then sacked Shivpal Yadav and three other ministers from his ministry. Within the hour, Shivpal met Mulayam and got Ram Gopal expelled from the party on charges of being an ‘agent of the BJP’.
On Monday, worse was in store during the meeting of SP legislators and ministers, attended by Mulayam, Akhilesh and Shivpal. The meeting quickly descended into mud slinging. Outside, supporters of the two camps clashed while inside Akhilesh offered to step down. “Netaji, it is your party and you made me CM. If the party is destroyed, my career will be ruined. I am ready to resign. But I know that the typewriter on which my removal as state president was typed was brought from Amar Singh’s home,” Akhilesh said, according to party sources.
In reply, Shivpal gave his version: “When I went to meet the CM, he told me that he will form a party and will contest the polls with the support of others. I can take a vow with Gangajal in my hand if you don’t believe me.” Shivpal reprimanded Akhilesh’s supporters, claiming that those who had been expelled from the party should leave the meeting. Akhilesh intervened and asked Ashu Malik, a legislator, to come up on stage to corroborate his version of the meeting. At this point, Shivpal snatched the mike and claimed the CM was lying. He was emboldened by the fact that Mulayam had already made his stand clear: “Amar Singh has saved me, else I would have been in jail. I cannot leave Shivpal, he has made sacrifices. Gayatri [Prajapati, the minister from the Shivpal faction accused of corruption] comes from a poor family, Mukhtar Ansari [the mafia don whose Qaumi Ekta Dal merged with the SP despite Akhilesh’s objections] comes from a respected family, Amar Singh is my brother, what is your status? Those who cannot stand criticism, cannot become a big leader.” Ashu Malik, who had reached the stage by then, was jeered and had to be rescued by Akhilesh’s security men. That is when the CM left the meeting.
Damaging faultlines exposed
Though attempts at a patch-up are once again on, the loss to Samajwadi Party from the events of the past 48 hours will not be recouped very easily. The party which symbolised ‘socialism’ in the Hindi belt and survived on the Muslim-Yadav (MY) combination with a sprinkling of Most Backward Class support has lost its status as a bulwark against the BJP.
Muslims, who constitute 18% of Uttar Pradesh’s population – and who valued the SP as their natural choice ever since the Congress stood by and allowed the Babri Masjid to be demolished in 1992 – today find themselves in a dilemma. Letters by Shivpal and Ram Gopal accusing each other of being BJP agents are being circulated on social media. The trading of charges has damaged the perception – however inaccurate it might have been in reality – of the party always standing against the communalism of the BJP. The desertion of Muslims – if this is indeed what happens in the assembly elections early next year – will be like a death warrant for the SP.
Besides, Mulayam’s statement that Amar Singh saved him from going to jail has also set off speculation about the crimes the Samajwadi leader might have committed that required such a shadowy saviour. Was this a reference to the support the SP finally provided to the Congress during the debate in parliament on the nuclear deal in 2008? Rumours are rife that the support Amar Singh delivered to the Manmohan Singh government led the CBI to slow down its investigation into allegations that Mulayam had amassed disproportionate assets.
Mayawati’s calculation, BJP’s hopes
As it sits on the fence, the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati is calculating how best to poach the SP’s disillusioned Muslim supporters. A formidable Dalit-Muslim combination will be a winning equation in 2017, the BSP hopes. Already, it has given over 100 tickets to Muslim candidates. The party has activated its ‘Muslim Bhaichara’ committees and its Muslim face, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, is getting importance. Siddiqui’s son heads the Muslim Bhaichara committees. The party also has ‘Brahmin Bhaichara’ committees in the state. Mayawati is the only politician who has come out in open support of the minority character of AMU and Jamia. Earlier this month, she frontally took on the RSS and BJP for the way in which its cow protection politics was targeting bother Muslims and Dalits.
The BJP too is a gainer as it feels the SP has been rendered hors de combat. It’s strategy is focused on retaining the 42% vote share it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The backwards who voted for the SP are seen as likely supporters of the BJP now. BJP president Amit Shah is also actively courting a section of the state’s Dalits, especially those who are not Jatavs – the sub-caste most loyal to the BSP. Together with its forward caste vote bank, the BJP hopes to sweep the assembly.
The Congress is still to revive despite the campaign design of Prashant Kishore – the strategist who helped Narendra Modi win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Nitish Kumar the Bihar assembly elections last year. With a weakened and perhaps even split Samajwadi Party now looking increasingly likely, Congress leaders are hoping the SP – or what remains of it after its internal bloodletting – will still be a formidable ally should it agree to a seat-sharing arrangement.
What remains of the unhappy family
As they contemplate life outside the SP, Akhilesh Yadav and his advisers are banking on a Delhi-like situation where the Aam Admi Party, despite not having a base of ready-made cadres, was able t0 put up a formidable fight in the assembly elections of 2013 and again 2015. With his relatively clean image – especially if he is able to free himself of Shivpal – and his original development plank, the chief minister is hoping to create a movement around himself. The ongoing fight has put him in a good position from which to emerge from the shadows of Mulayam and Shivpal – politicians the state’s electorate blames for much of the corruption and lawlessness that has convulsed UP. Even if the time he has between now and the elections is not quite enough to yield results in the coming elections, Akhilesh hopes to be a strong player in the long run.
Shivpal Yadav knew full well that his time under Akhilesh was over and he has now acted to carve out a role that he always believed was his. The SP may lose the elections but at least he has established himself where he can call the shots and flaunt his supremacy over the party.
When Mulayam Singh Yadav gave up the gaddi in Lucknow in 2012, this was because he had convinced himself that he was eventually destined for greater things. Against all odds, he is again pinning his hopes on becoming prime minister after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a dream which he is being encouraged to dream by every family member other than his own son Akhilesh. Due to this he has thrown his weight behind Shivpal and Amar Singh.
Faisal Fareed is a senior Lucknow-based journalist