LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh—The leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav gathered around him, and his loyalty to them, was once the secret of the Samajwadi Party's (SP) success in Uttar Pradesh, a close aide of Mulayam's brother Shivpal recalled, while reciting the names of former ministers that son Akhilesh Yadav fired when he was chief minister of the state.
"Samajwadi Party is not based on an ideology. The BSP has the Dalit movement and the BJP has Hindutva," the aide said. "SP drew its strength from the leaders that Mulayam Singh Yadav had put together like flowers in a bouquet."
Akhilesh, the aide continued, had thrown away the flowers in the bouquet one by one.
Last week, Shivpal floated his own "front" — the Samajwadi Secular Morcha (SMM), two years after he was sidelined in a family feud.
Shivpal said the SMM will contest all of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections, prompting the question of if the breakaway front will hurt the fledgling three-way alliance between the SP, the BSP and the Congress, and benefit the BJP as a consequence.
While Shivpal's camp insists that influential leaders sidelined by Akhilesh Yadav will gravitate to his new front and damage the SP, interviews with close to a dozen sources in the BJP, the SP and the SMM believe the new front will have marginal, if any impact in the contest most likely to shape the outcome of the general elections next year.
Analysts point to the fate of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majilis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections to suggest that voters are likely to pick either the BJP or the alliance, rather than waste a vote on a emerging front with limited appeal.
In 2015, the AIMIM's decision to contest in Seemanchal had the anti-BJP alliance worried about a split in the Muslim vote, but the alliance prevailed and the AIMIM lost all the six seats it contested.
Shivpal's aide would not be drawn into how many seats the new party would win, but said the veteran leader would find support among the Muslim, Yadav and Jat communities, and would impact each seat in the Yadav belt, primarily Firozabad, Etah, Etawah, Mainpuri, and Kannauj, by 10,000 to 15,000 votes in a state where winning margins can be slender.
"Shivpal Yadav might not be the most active on social media, but his approach has always been door-to-door. He is immensely popular among the people," the aide said.
There are days when Shivpal attends 14 weddings in row, he said. "The saying here is that it is easier for a layman to meet Narendra Modi in Delhi than it is to meet Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow."
Analysts say that Shivpal's front could manage 5,000 to 10,000 votes in a couple of seats in the Yadav belt.
SP leaders, by contrast, told HuffPost India that uncle Shivpal, they said, did not stand a chance against nephew Akhilesh.
Even Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party patriarch, who once appeared torn between his son and his brother, made clear his support for Akhilesh by appearing at the SP party office after Shivpal's announcement.
"When Mulayam Singh Yadav anointed his son Akhilesh, then just a green horn, as chief minister, he bestowed a huge amount of legitimacy on him," said Ashutosh Misra, a political science professor at Lucknow University. "It is deeply ingrained in Hindu society that the son carries the achievements of his father."
Misra added, "What is happening today is a very staid replay of 2017 before the Vidhan Sabha election. That was captivating. This has no thrill or drama."
Shivpal's move could pit more members of the Yadav family against each other.
There is speculation that he will field his son, Aditya Yadav in Firozabad, a seat presently held by Akshay Yadav, the son of his cousin, Ram Gopal Yadav.
The BJP Factor
BJP leaders believe that Shivpal Yadav can have "some" impact if he can form alliances with other small parties in Uttar Pradesh, and Muslim fronts like the Peace Party of India, and the AIMM, which opened its account in UP by winning at least 20 posts in the civic polls, last year.
A state BJP leader in Lucknow, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prospect of the SP-Cong-BSP alliance was worrisome, but Shivpal was unlikely to have an impact.
"If the alliance happens, BJP seats could take a hit, especially if they end up fielding the right candidates in the right seats," the BJP leader said. "It is too early to say how the situation pans out, but Shivpal's party will not have much impact. It might make some difference if he forms alliances with the Muslim parties."
Another BJP leader in the state said that it was too early to say if Shivpal Yadav would stay estranged from his brother and nephew, or if anti-BJP alliance would coalesce.
"They don't have a democratic setup. It's all in the family, who is to say when they make up," he said. "You are talking about how it can impact the alliance, but will the alliance even happen? I was just reading the other day that Mayawati has given orders for BSP to prepare for all 80 seats."
If the alliance does materialize, political analysts believe, Muslims will vote to defeat the BJP. Further, rumours of BJP aiding Shivpal's split with the SP is likely to taint him for Muslims.
Shivpal's rumoured links with the BJP go back to 2015, when he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking to transfer his son-in-law, Ajay Yadav, an IAS officer, from the Tamil Nadu cadre to Uttar Pradesh. At the time, Modi intervened to make possible the inter cadre deputation for three years.
Last month, following a meeting with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on August 9, Ajay Yadav's deputation in UP was extended for another two years.
Shivpal's meetings with Om Prakash Rajbhar, a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, and head of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaja Party, a BJP ally in the 2017 Assembly election, have strengthened speculation of his proximity to the BJP. Rajbhar, however, has denied any role in the formation of the SMM.
Meanwhile, expelled SP leader, Amar Singh, who recently met Modi in Lucknow, and has been hinting at joining the BJP, told reporters that he had arranged for Shivpal to meet with BJP leaders over the weekend, but he did not show up.
Two days later, Shivpal announced his new morcha.
Shivpal's departure from the SP, could smoothen the prospects of a tie-up with the BSP by finally calling a close to the infamous guesthouse episode.
When the BSP withdrew support from the SP government in 1995, Shivpal was allegedly on the scene when SP workers attacked Mayawati at the Meerabai Guest House in Lucknow. Mayawati pressed charges against Mulayam and Shivpal.
The BJP has taunted Mayawati of teaming up with the party that had once humiliated her.
With Mulayam's role reduced to a titular head of the party and Shivpal forming his own front, Mayawati's alliance with Akhilesh can start from a clean slate.
As one SP leader put it, "It can now be a truly natural alliance."
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