POLITICS

The Samajwadi Party Split: With Akhilesh Out, Here's What May Happen Next

How the story may play out for the assembly elections.

31/12/2016 1:18 AM IST | Updated 31/12/2016 8:32 AM IST
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An Indian supporter of Uttar Pradesh's Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav holds the photograph of Akhilesh Yadav as they protest against the eviction of Akhilesh Yadav from Samajwadi Party for 6 years.

As 2016 gives way to 2017, the Samajwadi Party is splitting into two. The turn of events on Friday, 30 December, made the split official, with Mulayam Singh Yadav sacking his own son Akhilesh Yadav from the party.

Here's how the events of the day unfolded. In the morning, Ram Gopal Yadav, the party's national general secretary, openly came out and said he supported Akhilesh Yadav and the list of 235 candidates put out by Akhilesh Yadav.

Ram Gopal Yadav, cousin of Mulayam Singh, made this statement in Farrukhabad. He added that a rapprochement between the two sides was no longer possible.

He then travelled to Lucknow where he attended a meeting with Akhilesh Yadav, which was also attended by a core group including key MLAs loyal to Akhilesh Yadav. These MLAs were being denied tickets by Mulayam Singh Yadav.

In this meeting, it was decided the Akhilesh camp would no longer seek a compromise. As Shivpal Yadav, brother of Mulayam Singh and the party's state president, kept putting out more names of candidates, it was clear that all doors for a compromise were closed. Mulayam Singh Yadav also asked all candidates whose names were announced, to attend a meeting at Mulayam's house on Saturday, 31 December, at 10:30 am.

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Does Akhilesh have enough time for new beginnings? How will he create a new organisation overnight?

As a result, Ram Gopal Yadav put out a notice, in his capacity as the party's general secretary, calling all Samajwadi Party representatives to attend a grand meeting at 11 am on 1 January in the auditorium of the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia University.

In the evening, Mulayam Singh Yadav called a press conference sacking both Ram Gopal and Akhilesh Yadav from the party for a period of six years.

What next?

This morning, there are two meetings. At Akhilesh Yadav's residence, all 224 party MLAs have been asked to be present at 9 am. At 10:30 am, father Mulayam Singh Yadav has summoned all 396 candidates whose names he has announced. There are 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly.

Of these 396, 170 odd are sitting MLAs. These legislators will have to decide which meeting they want to attend. It could turn out to be the most important decisions of their lives.

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Akhilesh and Ram Gopal knew that seeking to overthrow Mulayam and Shivpal from the party would result in Netaji expelling Akhilesh and Ram Gopal.

These meetings will decide who stands where. So far, 170 plus of 224 MLAs are said to be with Akhilesh Yadav. This strength comes from the realisation that public support is with Akhilesh.

In case Akhilesh needs to prove his majority before the house he will have the support of 22 Congress MLAs and 8 of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and possibly some more from small and independent parties. Akhilesh's majority is therefore in little doubt, and President's rule is unlikely.

As the last session of the assembly is already over and elections are nigh, President's rule in any case would be meaningless. More important is the need for Akhilesh Yadav to have as many sitting Samajwadi Party MLAs with him as possible to show before the Election Commission that he deserves the cycle, the party's election symbol.

READ: 16 Moments That Shaped The Fractious Election Campaign In UP

The Akhilesh Yadav camp has already made it clear that it intends to try and take over the party and remove Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav and their group from the party. In fact, on 1 January, in the meeting called by Ram Gopal Yadav, it is likely that he could declare Akhilesh Yadav as the national president of the Samajwadi Party, replacing Mulayam Singh Yadav. This would make official the existence of two Samajwadi Parties.

Freeze the cycle

Both parties would then go to the Election Commission demanding the right to use the cycle symbol. "A dispute over the party symbol takes 5-6 months to resolve as it is a quasi-judicial process," says former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi. In other words, Akhilesh may be able to wrest the party, but not before the 2017 assembly elections.

READ: If SP Splits, No Political Party Will Be Able To Use The Cycle Symbol

In making the decision, who has more MLAs would have more weightage than what the Samajwadi Party's constitution says, according to Quraishi. The reason why it still takes so many months is that several hearings are held, both sides are given time, every signature is verified.

In the process, it is likely the cycle symbol may get frozen and neither faction may be able to use it. To ensure this is the real purpose of the Akhilesh-Ram Gopal faction in wanting to take over the party. While it is clear they will be virtually making a new party, for a few days they would continue with the rhetoric of "why should we leave the party when most party MLAs, leaders and workers are with us".

Forming a new party, according the Quraishi, takes at least two months. With elections scheduled in February, there isn't enough time for any of this. If the Election Commission decides to hold UP elections in April – the government's term expires only on 19 May – the Akhilesh-Ram Gopal camp may be able to form a new party and get a new symbol in time.

The allotment of a new symbol, however, takes its own time. It is likely that Akhilesh's new party may have to contest on different symbols, which would come in the way of a meaningful state-wide campaign, Which is why rumours in Lucknow are that Akhilesh Yadav is likely to take over an existing party which already has a symbol allotted. Doing so would be fairly simple, agrees Quraishi.

Akhilesh and Ram Gopal knew that seeking to overthrow Mulayam and Shivpal from the party would result in Netaji expelling Akhilesh and Ram Gopal. This helps create sympathy for Akhilesh, who any case has public backing with high popularity ratings.

As is already clear, Akhilesh's plan involves a pre-poll alliance with the Congress and possibly the Ajit Singh-led RLD. Akhilesh Yadav has been in touch with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, besides using a bureaucrat as an interlocutor with the Congress. A source in the Congress party says when they enquired the status of the alliance on 26 December, the intermediary bureaucrat asked to wait another 3-4 days.

New beginnings

All indications are that Akhilesh Yadav was working with a plan hatched in consultation with the US-based political consultant Steve Jarding, a professor at Harvard University. Plan A was to insist on having his way and forcing Mulayam Singh Yadav to relent with the threat of rebellion. In case Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to do so, Plan B was to carry out the threat of rebellion – which he did yesterday.

Akhilesh and Ram Gopal knew that seeking to overthrow Mulayam and Shivpal from the party would result in Netaji expelling Akhilesh and Ram Gopal. This helps create sympathy for Akhilesh, who any case has public backing with high popularity ratings.

But does Akhilesh have enough time for new beginnings? How will he create a new organisation overnight?

Given that Akhilesh Yadav has deliberately escalated matters over the past few weeks, daring his father to the point that the patriarch had to expel him from the party, it follows that Akhilesh Yadav would also have planned for what to do after the split. In fact, sources say Akhilesh Yadav is ready with a massive presidential campaign of his own, which had nothing to do with the party whose control had been wrested by uncle Shivpal.

If this is how things play out, Mulayam Singh Yadav may have the saddest possible ending of a great political career. Even if Akhilesh loses the election, he will have defeated his father and won a dharm-yudh of sorts.

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