Sources in the Akhilesh camp said a patch up is still possible if Mulayam withdrew his claim before the Election Commission and acknowledged Akhilesh as party chief till the assembly polls were over.
Amit Agnihotri reports.
The Samajwadi Party appeared to be on the verge of a split with Mulayam Singh Yadav asserting himself as party chief, saying that a recent convention where Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was named the head of the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, was illegal.
After several rounds of failed patch up attempts between Mulayam and Akhilesh over the past week, Mulayam asserted his authority.
‘I am the party chief, Akhilesh is only the chief minister,’ Mulayam said in Delhi after he held extensive parleys with close aides Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh.
Mulayam also declared a recent party convention called by the Akhilesh faction, where the chief minister was named the party’s national president and Mulayam the adviser, as illegal.
The SP convention in Lucknow last week had been called by party veteran Ram Gopal Yadav, whom Mulayam had expelled earlier and then taken back.
‘Ram Gopal has been expelled from the party for six years. He had no right to call the convention,’ Mulayam said.
The SP patriarch further negated a decision made by Ram Gopal saying that Shivpal was the SP’s UP unit chief.
With the Election Commission’s deadline asking both sides to prove their claim over party symbol cycle ending January 9, a split in the SP seemed imminent.
While Ram Gopal, who is supporting Akhilesh, has submitted seven boxes of documentary evidence to support his claim, Mulayam is scheduled to meet the poll panel on Monday.
According to Ram Gopal, the majority of the party’s members and lawmakers were supporting Akhilesh and this has been proved when around 200 of the 229 MLAs attended a meet called by Akhilesh.
Sources said Ram Gopal has submitted personal affidavits signed by around 205 of the 229 MLAs, 56 of the 68 MLCs and 30 of the 45 national executive members, as proof before the EC.
“We have the majority support. Why can’t Mulayam Singh see all this?” he wondered.
Sources said Ram Gopal believes Shivpal and Amar Singh are using their influence on Mulayam and instigating the party veteran against Akhilesh.
However, sources in the Akhilesh camp said a patch up was still possible if Mulayam withdrew his claim before the poll panel and acknowledged Akhilesh as party chief till the assembly polls were over.
After the polls, they said Mulayam would be given complete charge of the party but he should not disturb the apple cart when the party was trying hard to retain power.
If the SP splits, the poll symbol cycle could be frozen by the EC. Both sides would then be given new symbols.
UP will have seven-phased polls for 403 seats from February 11 to March 8. The results will be out on March 11.
Several SP leaders fear Muslim voters may shift loyalty, which will benefit rivals like the BJP.
Virendra Singh Rawat reports.
The infighting within the Yadav clan, which controls the Samajwadi Party, has all the ingredients of a soap opera: Suspense, envy, ambition and histrionics.
It is a clash of generations as much as it is about the internal politics of a powerful family where the rules of succession have not been neatly laid down.
Such are the daily twists and turns that friend and foe alike are unable to plan their next move.
On January 1, the power struggle claimed its biggest casualty thus far when patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav was removed as the party’s national president, though he was made the margdrashak.
In his place, his son, Akhilesh, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was handed over the reins of the party which is a force to reckon with in the state.
The unthinkable had happened. In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, it was unconceivable for the Samjawadi Party to join the fray without Mulayam.
Maybe Akhilesh reckoned that his septuagenarian father could no longer attract youth votes.
Maybe he felt the work done by his government (Lucknow Metro, Lucknow-Agra Highway) would overshadow Mulayam’s appeal.
Akhilesh, all this while, showed no explicit displeasure towards his father — the image of the loving son whose hand had been forced by conniving relatives never really shed him.
Whatever be his calculations, the sudden development came at the special convention called by the Akhilesh faction after Mulayam had sided with the rival faction led by his younger brother, Shivpal, and trusted aide and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Amar Singh.
While team Akhilesh has blamed the Amar-Shivpal combination for conspiring against him in a bid to scuttle his chances of returning to power in the polls, Mulayam has always sworn for their loyalties towards him and the party.
But the lawmakers have, by and large, sided with Akhilesh, putting Mulayam in a spot — he has lost control of the party he founded and nurtured.
Now, the two factions are slugging it out at the doorsteps of the Election Commission.
Each has claimed to be the ‘real’ Samajwadi Party and has staked its claim over the popular party symbol of bicycle.
While Amar Singh and Shivpal have been blamed for all the trouble, which many feel will benefit the party’s adversaries in the coming elections, some people have pointed to the tacit role played by Mulayam’s wife, Sadhna Gupta, her son Prateek and daughter-in-law Aparna, for the feud within the party that will complete 25 years of its existence later this year.
Sadhna is Mulayam’s second wife. Akhilesh’s mother, Malti Devi, died in 2003.
It is widely believed that Sadhna has for long demanded a share in the party’s political power, which has all along been stiffly opposed by Akhilesh and his aides.
Last year, Akhilesh’s aide and legislator Udayveer Singh had written a terse letter to Mulayam, cautioning him of vested interests around him for the mistrust brewing in the party, although he did not explicitly name anyone.
He was later sacked from the party by Mulayam, yet he continues to enjoy Akhilesh’s full confidence.
Mulayam was instrumental in anointing Akhilesh as the chief minister after the 2012 polls, even in the face of opposition within the party and family.
Akhilesh’s wife, Dimple, is an MP from Kannauj.
In this context, Prateek and Aparna have not yet been bequeathed any political power, even as several of Mulayam’s extended family members, including brothers, cousins and nephews, hold high political offices in Parliament, the UP assembly, blocks and panchayats.
Even though Prateek has always stayed away from the glare of the media and has never expressed the desire for a political role for himself, Aparna has gradually made a mark for herself in public life through her social service initiatives, especially in the fields of women empowerment and sanitation.
These, many say, were her baby steps towards a full-fledged political career later.
Prateek and Aparna, the daughter of a senior journalist who is now an information commissioner in Uttar Pradesh, had tied the knot in 2011 after courtship. The couple have a daughter, Prathma, who was born in 2013. They also studied together in the UK.
She is a classical and folk singer too and performs at cultural fests. She speaks her mind, sometimes digressing from the official Samajwadi Party line.
In the past, she candidly praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and slammed personalities who had raised the issue of growing intolerance in society to target him.
While Prateek’s fitness and property businesses keep him busy, Aparna’s candidature for the impending polls from the Lucknow Cantonment constituency was announced by Mulayam last year.
The seat is currently held by Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who recently switched sides from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Interestingly, Aparna’s name was missing from the list of probable candidates released by Akhilesh, which amply indicated his unwillingness to allow Aparna any power play under him.
Political watchers believe Sadhna has been siding with Shivpal to keep Akhilesh under check, since they both realise the hard fact that a powerful Akhilesh in the future would put them on the sidelines permanently, especially after Mulayam, 77, ceases to be active politically and otherwise.
The two half brothers, Akhilesh and Prateek, share a formal relationship and have conspicuously maintained their distance in public and avoid commenting on each other.
No senior Samajwadi Party leader or Yadav family member has ever spoken on this contentious issue and much of the rift between Akhilesh and Sadhna still remains in the realm of speculation. The sequential events strongly buttress this fact nonetheless.
Although the trouble within the party and the ruling family was never a secret, the cracks had started to emerge at regular intervals.
On September 8, 2015, at an official function in Lucknow, Shivpal, who was then holding the public works and irrigation departments, had publicly alleged that some bureaucrats attached with departments headed by Akhilesh had been causing hurdles in the projects of his departments and not heeding his directives.
Coming from the most powerful minister in the Akhilesh cabinet, this washing of dirty linen in the open indicated matters were on the boil.
On other occasions, Mulayam publicly chided Akhilesh and warned him against his coterie of officials and ministers.
On September 12, Akhilesh sacked two key cabinet ministers, Gayatri Prasad Prajapati and Raj Kishore Singh, and followed it up by removing chief secretary Deepak Singhal.
The three were considered close to Mulayam and Shipval.
In later months, the two factions had their respective show of strength during Akhilesh’s Vikas Rath Yatra and the party’s silver jubilee celebrations in Lucknow.
The spat escalated when Shivpal and his three trusted ministers were sacked from the council of ministers.
The four have still not been reinstated by Akhilesh, despite Mulayam’s advice to this effect.
Matters took a turn for the worse when Mulayam and Shivpal started to declare candidates for the elections, and Akhilesh, feeling sidetracked, responded by declaring his own list of candidates.
As Akhilesh was unrelenting, Mulayam sacked Akhilesh and Ram Gopal Yadav, his cousin who had decided to side with the chief minister, from the party for six years, although the decision was reversed within 24 hours at the intervention of senior party leader Azam Khan.
The feud has dented the image of the party and, many believe, has shaken the confidence of its core voters, the Yadavs who form 12% to 15% of the state’s population. It has also created confusion in the minds of the party’s workers.
Akhilesh’s Vikas Rath Yatra has largely been a non-starter and the few public meetings by party leaders have been no more than public posturing by the two factions in a bid at one-upmanship.
Several Samajwadi Party leaders fear, and this concern was raised by the party’s Muslim face Azam Khan, that Muslim voters may shift loyalty, which will benefit rivals like the BJP.
Mayawati, the other contender for power, in order to capitalise on the situation, has fielded a record number of Muslims in the elections.
There is also speculation that the Congress may tie up with the Akhilesh faction for the elections, provided he makes a clean break from the old guard.
While everybody wants to know if the Samjawadi Party will split or not, one thing is certain: This is a soap opera that is not going to end quickly.