There's a fork in the road for Akhilesh Yadav. He has to choose between his father and his destiny. It's a difficult choice, one that he must have made a while ago, but now is the time he will play his cards. Or not.
Mulayam Singh Yadav's announcements yesterday made it clear he was snubbing and sidelining his son and choosing to do things his way, his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav in tow. The Samajwadi patriarch gave tickets to several politicians anathema to Akhilesh, and took out names of several of his loyalists. He made it clear his party won't enter a pre-poll alliance with the Congress party, which both Akhilesh and the Congress were keen to do.
With the Shivpal group contesting elections, it is feared that cadres loyal to Akhilesh may play saboteurs.
While Akhilesh has said he will make another appeal to his father to accommodate his loyalists, Mulayam made it clear there would be no changes in this list of 325, and the remaining 78 would be announced soon. Crucially, Mulayam Singh Yadav also said his party would not have a chief ministerial candidate. The elected MLAs would choose their CM – and Akhilesh loyalists aren't being given tickets to become MLAs anyway.
Defeat Is Certain
Akhilesh has two choices. One, he can accept his father's decisions and go with the flow. If he does this, the Samajwadi Party is certain to lose the election. Akhilesh, not the party, has political capital amongst voters. With the Shivpal group contesting elections, it is feared that cadres loyal to Akhilesh may play saboteurs. Such is the split in the party. Moreover, sensing that Akhilesh is not the party's own choice for chief ministership, voters other than the party's core Yadav base may not see the SP favourably.
This would help Muslim voters consider Mayawati more seriously, and floating voters who are impressed with Akhilesh may be more inclined towards the BJP. The traditional Yadav plus Muslim calculation is not enough to make the SP come to power, it needs more votes.
Not many will believe it unless they live in or travel through Uttar Pradesh: Akhilesh is incredibly popular among voters. Even those who form core vote banks of other parties, such as upper castes who vote for the BJP or Dalits who vote for Mayawati, acknowledge Akhilesh has done well.
If Akhilesh loses this election and sits in opposition benches, or is not made chief minister despite an SP win, he will lose the momentum he has built around himself. Who knows what shape politics will take by 2019, and by 2022, when the next UP assembly elections will be held. The calculation that the party is all Akhilesh's after his father, is not so simple.
If he rebels, he will have dignity, and thus future political capital, whether or not he wins 2017.
Now Is The Time
Secondly, it is usually said that Akhilesh won't rebel against his father, he won't split from the Samajwadi Party, he isn't willing to take such an extreme step, he isn't that courageous. Will the public really accept a son who rebels against his father? Given the polls are likely just a month away, is there enough time to split and fight a parallel election from the SP?
Yet it is a step Akhilesh Yadav could well take, and would only benefit from. In recent interviews, Akhilesh Yadav has hinted how conscious he is of Brand Akhilesh. In October, he released a campaign video helpfully titled "UP is my family" The video shows his wife and children, but not his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. He has also said many things could happen just before elections.
It is usually said that Akhilesh won't rebel against his father, he won't split from the Samajwadi Party, he isn't willing to take such an extreme step, he isn't that courageous.
If Akhilesh has been ready with his parallel presidential campaign, seeking to capitalise on his visible development, it is possible he has the space to rebel and fight on his own, even at this late hour. Candidates in Uttar Pradesh are in any case a mercenary force, still knocking various doors in Lucknow, willing to get a ticket from any party. As long as they have money and some local standing, they are ready to get a ticket.
Akhilesh may not be able to replicate an SP-like organisation overnight, but while the candidates will seek votes from door to door, a parallel presidential campaign for Akhilesh could make up for the lack of a party organisation.
Even if Akhilesh loses after splitting, he will have built a long-term brand for himself. By staying under the shadow of his father, he may waste crucial years of his political life. Akhilesh has been so marginalised and shamed by his father and uncle now, it makes no sense to stay on in the party. Now is the time to chart a destiny of his own.
If Akhilesh gives in, he will be seen as a loser. If he rebels, he will have dignity, and thus future political capital, whether or not he wins 2017.
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