New Delhi: Friday, the 13th of January is likely to see the logical denouement of the Samajwadi Party family crisis that has been hogging headlines for over four months now, with the Election Commission set to decide who — the Mulayam Singh Yadav-Shivpal Yadav combo or the Akhilesh Yadav-Ram Gopal Yadav faction — is the original SP. More importantly, the EC will decide who gets to claim the poll symbol of SP, the humble cycle.
However, regardless of the verdict, the Akhilesh camp is ready with its plan for Assembly polls slated to begin on February 11, with or without the original SP or the cycle symbol, people close to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister told News18.
The Akhilesh camp was hoping for some kind of compromise in the last 48 hours. But Mulayam Singh Yadav didn’t betray any signs of rapprochement and questioned the bonafides of the documents submitted by Akhilesh Yadav and Ram Gopal Yadav to the Election Commission. This combined with Amar Singh’s presence in Sunday’s press conference — he stood behind Mulayam clutching his chair — has only helped push the Akhilesh camp deeper and deeper into the belief that Mulayam is not in a position to take decisions of his own. For proof they point out to the continuing inconsistencies in his media statements.
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“Sab Netaji ke hain, sab unki izzat karte hain… Lekin kyon hain sab Akhilesh ke saath khade is ladayi mein? Kyonki Amar Singh aur Shivpal party ko dooba rahe hain, Netaji se galat faisla karwa kar (Everyone respects Mulayam, but even then why are they all standing with Akhilesh in this war? That’s because everyone knows Amar Singh and Shivpal Yadav are destroying the party. They are forcing Mulayam to make wrong decisions),” a senior SP MP told News18.
Another Akhilesh supporter alleged that the SP supremo was being forced to take public positions against his son and chief minister, which are causing a “permanent dent to the image of the party that cannot be undone or withdrawn”.
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But now with matters reaching the EC, MLAs close to Akhilesh Yadav highlight inconsistencies in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s political calls in the last few months to justify their coup. Sources in SP say that Akhilesh has repeated his demand that his father should let him continue as the party president only till the completion of the elections. Their biggest fear before ticket distribution is a scenario where Mulayam gets to continue as national president and appoints Amar Singh as the person authorised to sign the all-crucial Form A. Form A has the declaration of the person who is authorised to sign on behalf of the party.
Last Saturday, Ram Gopal Yadav had submitted signed affidavits of 212 MLAs, 15 MPs and 56 MLCs to the Election Commission to show the Akhilesh camp’s numerical strength within the party. Mulayam, in a press conference on Sunday, alleged the signatures were forged, making it clear that he is in no mood to compromise.
And increasingly, in this Shakespearean saga of family intrigues, the villain for the Akhilesh faction is Amar Singh.
A source privy to the events told News18 that Amar Singh had personally taken a computer operator with a printer to Mulayam’s residence and got the letter typed expelling Akhilesh from the party.
Amar Singh refused to respond to a News18 questionnaire and none of the Akhilesh faction leaders who spoke to News18 were willing to be named.
SP insiders say that after the dramatic expulsion of Akhilesh and Ram Gopal and their reinstatement the next day, Akhilesh went to meet his father. A top SP source recounts the conversation. Akhilesh is learnt to have asked Mulayam: “Aapne humko expel kyon kiya? (Why did you expel me?)”
Mulayam is said to have replied: “Mujhe kisi ne kaha tum gadbad kar rahe the. Lekin wapas le liya na to ab kaun si baat (Someone told me you were up to some mischief. But what’s the issue now, you have been taken back).”
Another source says that when Ram Gopal was expelled for the first time in October 2016, two party MPs had registered their protest with Mulayam. And without any further pressure, Mulayam reinducted his cousin into the party.
The whole fracas in the Samajwadi Party started with the removal of IAS officer Deepak Singhal as the state chief secretary in September 2016. Akhilesh had removed the officer who was a confidante of Shivpal Yadav, but now his supporters say more than the Chief Minister, it was indeed Mulayam who asked for the sacking of his chief secretary.
A leader close to Akhilesh recounts the conversation as he heard it: “Mulayam called a night before Singhal was sacked and told Akhilesh: Singhal bahut chugli kar raha hai usko hata do (Singhal is acting up a lot, let’s remove him)”. Apparently Akhilesh replied that Singhal was appointed after instructions from Mulayam.
“You had asked me to appoint him, it’s just a matter of few months now as elections aren’t far. So let him continue, I have already given him a lot of work to do,” Akhilesh told his father, says this leader. But Mulayam stood his ground and Akhilesh had to follow his father’s diktat, he claims.
Rahul Bhatnagar soon replaced Singhal as UP chief secretary, but matters didn’t end there.
Akhilesh’s camp claims that Singhal then sought help from Amar Singh, who took him to meet Mulayam. The patriarch called his son in front of Singhal and Amar Singh, and asked for the officer’s reinstatement. Apparently, Akhilesh revolted saying he can’t take such important decisions of appointments on his whims and fancies. “These are important calls with ramifications in governance and administration and hence Akhilesh had to assert his authority,” this SP leader recounts.
So just why this blood feud between Amar Singh and Akhilesh?
Sources close to Akhilesh say it’s all about Bollywood and India Inc. They claim that Akhilesh had reached out to both these segments, which, up until then, was the preserve of Amar Singh.
When Akhilesh came to power, he established a direct link with both these constituencies. Which meant those wanting to shoot in UP could directly contact the CM office, who in turn put them in touch with the officers concerned, and gave them subsidies. Soon, UP became a popular shooting destination. This made Amar Singh redundant, claims another MLA close to Akhilesh. Likewise, Akhilesh himself reached out to industry captains, establishing a direct link with them in his efforts to portray UP as an investment destination, this MLA said.
“With his influence declining, Amar Singh decided to hit back,” he says.
Another top SP leader claims that a turning point in this worsening relationship was a cover story carried by a national magazine that had lambasted the UP CM for his performance. “Akhilesh was facing questions from all quarters and was pronounced a failed CM,” he says, adding that Shivpal had started telling his aides that he will be taking charge as the CM soon.
And Akhilesh chose to hit back. After almost four months of the family drama played out on live TV, all eyes are now on the Election Commission, as a rapprochement looks increasingly unlikely. Camp Akhilesh, for now at least, says it doesn’t matter if the cycle symbol is given to Mulayam-Shivpal camp, or if it is frozen. “The biggest brand now is Akhilesh, not the cycle. If we have to adopt a new symbol, we will ensure it reaches voters on time,” says a close aide of the UP CM.