JASWANTNAGAR: When candidates go around door to door canvassing for votes, they get false promises from voters, they get some complaints and may be a few garlands. In Jaswantnagar, they do it differently. Every village wants to welcome Shivpal Singh Yadav with a special meeting. They put up a tent, buy garlands and fruits, arrange microphones. The king is coming.
"Even if Shivpal Yadav tries to lose, he will win by 50,000 votes," says a Yadav farmer. Having no responsibilities this election, not even of a star campaigner, Shivpal is spending a lot of time in Jaswantnagar. In the past, a few visits would do it for him.
This time, he wants a high winning margin. He won by 82,000 votes in 2012. This time he asks voters for a 1 lakh margin. This isn't mere rhetoric. Shivpal Yadav needs everything he can get to boost his position before Akhilesh Yadav. In the battle for a higher margin in the Yadav pocket borough, lies the battle for maan and samman, honour and respect.
Held and nurtured by the Yadav family since 1985, Jaswantnagar is a rural idyll as much as Uttar Pradesh can have one. Shivpal Yadav says in his village speeches that people here have better roads than Delhi or Mumbai. People raise slogans such as, 'Chahcha Shivpal ki jai'. In Jaswantnagar, people call him Chacha or Mantriji.
Shivpal Yadav is caught between a rock and a hard place. Contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket, he can't possibly badmouth chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Having been dethroned by Akhilesh, Shivpal can't even praise him.
In one village meeting, the tent behind him has Winnie The Pooh all over it. An Akhilesh Yadav song plays on a very bad sound system. "Baby ko bass pasand hai, UP ko Akhilesh pasand hai," it says. A special song for Shivpal follows, it's not a patch on the Akhilesh songs. Shivpal just can't escape the larger than life shadow of his nephew, whom he raised as a child while his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was busier with politics.
Why Shivpal Is 'Mulayam'
Shivpal Yadav has suddenly gone all soft on Akhilesh, a fortnight after he first threatened to float his own party after the election results on 11 March. Now he says he won't form a party, and will happily accept a ministry in Akhilesh Yadav's government, should it be formed. What is the explanation for the turnaround?
Shivpal Yadav badmouthing Akhilesh or threatening a split doesn't go down well in Jaswantnagar, or for that matter in the entire Yadav stronghold spanning a few districts, Kannauj, Farrukhabad, Etawah and Mainpuri. Voters in Jaswantnagar and elsewhere in Etawah refuse to give a direct answer about the family feud. If pressed, they say they are with Mulayam because it was Mulayam, son of the soil, who gave them the development benefits like a VIP constituency. But they add they like Akhilesh because he has a youthful energy. Don't ask us difficult questions, they say. We need all the Yadavs, we'll vote cycle, we don't care who's fighting with whom. They need Shivpal because he's their MLA and they need Akhilesh because he's chief minister.
That's why Shivpal taking a confrontational position doesn't help him. He doesn't want to give the impression of a divided house that others could use to split votes, and he wants every vote possible to get a high margin.
Shivpal's election will be over on 19 February, and he might then go back to being a rebel, backing rebel candidates, making a noise and hurting Akhilesh Yadav. Except that he can do none of this in defiance of 'Netaji' Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam has decided to go soft on Akhilesh, but why?
As the Akhilesh camp has said, on occasion publicly, one of the influences on Netaji is his second wife, Sadhna Gupta. While rejecting many candidates proposed by Shivpal, Akhilesh Yadav smartly accepted 38 candidates proposed by his father, including Aparna Yadav, daughter of Sadhna Gupta, Akhilesh's stepmother.
Yesterday, the Akhilesh camp went a step further with his wife Dimple Yadav campaigning for her step-sister-in-law Aparna Yadav. Appeasing 'Netaji' by giving up their reservations over Aparna, the Akhilesh camp has managed to keep Shivpal Yadav in check. Both Aparna Yadav and Shivpal Yadav will see their elections over on 19 February. Whether the truce will last beyond that, is anybody's guess. It is more likely the family feud will now depend on how the party fares in the results on 11 March. It is by no means over. For now, the clan is united by the desire for power.
In Jaswantnagar, a stone's throw from Shivpal Yadav's house, is a new office called 'Mulayam ke log', the people of Mulayam. Opened with Shivpal Yadav's patronage, the office now wears a lock. Outside its door are stickers for Ashish Rajput, a candidate in neighbouring Etawah seat from the Lok Dal, a small party not to be confused with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Earlier, brothers Mulayam and Shivpal had endorsed Ashish Rajput over the Samajwadi Party candidate, Kuldeep Gupta 'Santu', who is a nominee of the Akhilesh camp. Talking to voters in Etawah, however, they said Lok Dal's Rajput was not in the race. Yadav voters are clear, they don't vote for one Yadav camp or another, they vote for the cycle symbol, whoever gets the ticket.