NEW DELHI -- The curtain fell today on a major Act of the Yadav family feud, with the Election Commission (EC) deciding that the Samajwadi Party's (SP) 'cycle' symbol would go to the Akhilesh Yadav-led faction of the party, handing a blow to his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls less than a month away, the EC's decision is a major boost for Akhilesh. A party symbol, especially one such as the 'cycle' which has been SP's symbol right since it first contested elections 25 year ago, has tremendous significance and can also play a crucial role in the poll outcome.
India still has many voters unable to read the party or candidate's name at the ballot box and they cast their vote against the party symbol. Then there are many voters who are not familiar with their local candidate, and they too cast their vote against the party symbol.
The EC's decision will also be a big relief for the Congress party which is in talks with the Akhilesh camp for forging an alliance. It was senior Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal who represented Akhilesh before EC, which heard both the sides out on Friday.
Mulayam, who founded SP and was its chief until he was dethroned as the national president of the party by Akhilesh, appeared before the EC on Friday accompanied by his brother Shivpal Yadav. They were represented by senior advocate and former Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran. Akhilesh, who has also removed his uncle Shivpal as the SP state president, was represented by his uncle and confidant, Ram Gopal Yadav. Mulayam and Shivpal have accused Ram Gopal of conspiring with other political parties to split the SP.
Presenting its case before the EC, the Mulayam camp argued that the meeting which Ram Gopal called on 1 January was against the party's constitution. They also claimed that there was no split in SP and therefore there was no need for the EC to decide which faction was to be allotted the party symbol. Akhilesh's side argued that there was indeed a dispute in the SP and the chief minister had the support of the majority of lawmakers and party members.
The 'cycle' symbol dates back to the early 1990s when Mulayam was building SP up from the grassroots. An oft-repeated story recalls how Mulayam, popularly known as Netaji, would go from village to village on his cycle, talking to people and drumming up support for the party.
The Samajwadi Party celebrated its 25th anniversary in November, last year.
According to reports, Akhilesh, who is 43-years old, was considering using the 'motorcycle' symbol if the EC did not rule in their favour. The motorcycle would have projected a modern and progressive avatar of the humble cycle. Another party, the Lok Dal, has offered Mulayam its party symbol.
The power struggle between father and son, with other members of the extended Yadav family aligned with one side or the other, has played out in public in the months leading to the U.P. Assembly elections. Akhilesh has lashed out against Rajya Sabha lawmaker Amar Singh, casting him as the outsider interfering in party matters and poisoning his father's mind against him. Mulayam and Shivpal have accused their cousin Ram Gopal of indiscipline for siding with Akhilesh, and expelled him from the party.
At one point, Mulayam had refused to acknowledge that his son would become U.P. chief minister again if SP were to win the elections. Both sides prepared competing lists of candidates for the polls. But in a show of strength on 1 January, Akhilesh wrested power from his father and was named president by a majority of SP lawmakers.
After weeks of railing bitterly against his son, Mulayam has recently expressed the desire to make peace on the condition that he retain his position as the party president. Akhilesh, however, has reiterated that he will continue to lead the party at least until the Assembly elections are over.
While there is little doubt that, for now at least, Akhilesh has emerged stronger than his father, how the power tussle within SP will affect the party's performance in the upcoming polls remains to be seen. U.P. is India's most populous state and, arguably, the most politically significant. The winner in the elections will emerge as a strong player at the national level.
Political rivals, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have both attacked the SP over its family feud. They have dismissed the Yadav family's squabbles as a big "drama" to divert attention from the acute problems facing U.P.
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