In 2012, the Samajwadi Party (SP) had a staunch vote-bank, local strongholds and a befitting label of "goonda raj" affixed to its reputation. What it didn't have was a face that would transform the image of the party and lead it to victory in the assembly elections. Mulayam Singh had the perfect solution.... bring in someone who had mass appeal, could reach out to the youth but would let the party supremo control the reins of the government. That someone was Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam's son from his first marriage. But Mulayam Singh made one mistake in his judgement. He didn't realize that his puppet had a mind of his own. Akhilesh led the party to victory and at the age of 38, became the youngest CM of the country's largest state. And he refused to be satisfied with just the role of a vote-catcher.
Mulayam Singh is still holding the reins of the horses, but he has lost control of the chariot.
Akhilesh Yadav stood up against corruption, infighting and misbehaviour, a clear deviation from the practices followed by veteran members of the SP. Within a short time, he set into motion an organizational restructuring, stirring up a hornet's nest, resulting in major shifts in party factions. If voters saw hope in Akhilesh's governance, the party strongmen, particularly Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Singh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav, Mukhtar Ansari and Amar Singh saw a shift in loyalties among party workers. The party, dominated by elders, refused to let power change hands. The family bond which was Samajwadi Party's biggest asset had become the reason for its downfall.
The neglected son
Akhilesh is presently cutting a sympathetic figure, as borne out by a recent poll. On one hand he is playing the role of the angry son of a wronged and neglected mother and on the other, an obedient son to a father who didn't even give a name to Akhilesh when he was young. Mulayam also has not left any stone unturned in showing his displeasure over Akhilesh's decisions as CM. The father has often rebuked the son in public. The family drama is not just limited to the duo. There is a step-mother, step-brother, uncles and no one knows how many others, who are adding their own flavours to the story. In this fiasco, the deprived son who till 2000 had no inclination to join politics has sure come a long way.
The way the SP internal feud is turning out is not new to Indian politics. There always has been a tug-of-war for power between the older and younger generations. Late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's son and nephew are constantly engaged in a power tussle. In 2006, Bal Thackeray's nephew Raj Thackeray broke away from Shiv Sena to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) during Thackeray's retirement and appointment of his son, Uddhav (rather than Raj) as the leader of Shiv Sena. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has its own story similar to that of SP. The DMK is full of fissures caused by sibling rivalry, factionalism and the younger generation vying for more power.
One thing is clear, once the bitter family picture is displayed publicly, the cracks are painfully evident. Mulayam Singh can hold as many reconciliation meetings as he desires, but the chacha-bhatija (uncle-nephew) bantering has put the Samajwadi Party on a breakup course.
The big bang before Diwali
Uttar Pradesh is waiting with baited breath for the final curtain call in the Yadav family drama. And it sure is going to end with thunderclaps. The split in SP is imminent. Akhilesh has been shown his place and Shivpal and Amar Singh already know theirs. As for Mulayam Singh, though he's still holding the reins of the horses, he has lost control of the chariot.
Whether the SP splits or faces the elections in 2017 with a patch-up job, the damage has been done.
The incumbent CM has two choices ahead of him. One, he does what his father bids him to do—surrender to the authority of his uncle Shivpal and Amar Singh and play the role of a puppet CM to perfection. Now, this is unlikely to happen as Akhilesh, on many instances has made it very clear that he will not controlled by strings held by party elders, whose style of functioning is not acceptable to the young leader. The second choice, of forming his own party along with Ram Gopal Yadav and the youth supporters of Samajwadi Party, is more likely to go well with Akhilesh. He has already made it known that he would start the election campaign "without waiting for anyone." Although there has been no formal announcement of a split, Akhilesh supporters are looking forward to work under the "Progressive Samajwadi Party", the breakaway faction of the big giant that the Samawadi Party was under Netaji.
Whether the SP splits or faces the elections in 2017 with a patch-up job, the damage has been done. The already tarnished image of the party, which Akhilesh was trying hard to clean up, has been further begrimed by the blood feud.
And the vote-bank goes to....
One can only speculate about this, of course. Either way, the outcome will definitely be written about as a lesson for other political parties who are in the grip of power struggles between dynasties and factions. The Yadav vote-bank which has led the party to many victories in the past is likely to split. Those that choose to stay with their own clan will be divided. Many will favour the son over the father for the former's development policies and a clear progressive image. Akhilesh also as the ability to mobilize voters in larger constituencies, as was visible in the 2012 elections. A percentage of the Yadavs will be BJP's gain, though at this time it is difficult to predict the number. SP's Muslim vote-bank may decide to go with Mayawati's BSP to counter BJP's gain in the breakup.
Mulayam Singh is clearly heartbroken and might not be able to garner any support from outside. The best bet for him would be to declare himself as the CM candidate. The events will, however, have a different turn if there is an alliance between Mayawati and Mulayam. It is anybody's guess what such an ego-ridden alliance might bring to the fore.
The race to the forthcoming assembly elections in UP is already lost to both Mulayam and Akhilesh, unless fresh alliances and political alignments are made.
Amidst all the ongoing sacking of ministers and shifting loyalties, the one person who is being closely watched with hawk eyes is Akhilesh Yadav. Any gathbandhans (alliances) the young leader enters into will change the flavour of the UP election curry. We could be witnessing a Bharat milap if Akhilesh decides to join hands with Rahul Gandhi, for Congress will be coming back to UP after a long long vanvas. Akhilesh and Rahul have already been setting off speculation about a possible alliance between SP and Congress by praising (and defending) each other on various occasions.
After the split, will the bicycle riders be able to balance themselves on the unicycles that are left with them or be on the look-out for side-wheels to keep their feet off the ground? In either case, the race to the forthcoming assembly elections in UP is already lost to both Mulayam and Akhilesh, unless fresh alliances and political alignments are made.