Sunday, October 23, 2016

Uncertain future of Akhilesh Yadav

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav emerged from last month’s Yadav family feud, almost unscathed, indeed, even with his personal image enhanced.

But, a month later, the Samajwadi Party looks as though it is heading for a split  just months ahead of assembly elections in the state. Enhancing the tense situation  ahead of a meeting on Sunday afternoon of party legislators called by Akhilesh to spell to his vision of the way ahead his uncle and Rajya Sabha MP Ramgopal Yadav issued a provocative letter to party workers, saying the SP’s future lies with of the chief minister, even as party seniors Reoti Raman Singh, Beni Prasad Verma, Naresh Agarawal and Kironmoy Nanda were trying to broker peace between father and son.

The fresh round of hostilities started a little over a week ago with Akhilesh’s father and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav saying MLAs would choose the next chief minister a position later retracted  casting a shadow on the party’s prospects in next year’s state elections.

Cadre morale in the SP is at an all-time low, as the tug of war continues. And a substantial section of the party’s vote base  the Muslims  are looking for another party, possibly the BSP that can take on the BJP.

Is it too late for Mulayam Singh to put a leash on his brothers and cousins, and ensure that second wife Sadhana Gupta, with the help of new general secretary Amar Singh, doesn't destroy the party that he has so assiduously built over a quarter of a century?

After his first public spat with his father and the extended Yadav clan a month ago, Akhilesh emerged a hero: he had taken on his family in the interests of the development of a modern state. Even though he was forced to reinstate one of the two scam-tainted ministers he had sacked; and had lost the headship of the SP’s UP unit – and with it, the biggest say in the distribution of tickets for the upcoming polls  the ranks of his admirers only swelled.

Last month, as I travelled through central and eastern UP, it was evident that he had endeared himself to the Yadav community’s growing middle class that no longer wished to be associated with Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Yadav. The youth cutting across class, caste and religion felt he identified with their interests and aspirations. And upper castes were not hostile to him as they were to the rest of the Yadav clan.

Indeed, Akhilesh was repeatedly described as the SP’s “only political asset” both in rural and urban UP.

But with Mulayam Singh announcing on October 14 that party MLAs would decide the state’s next CM, optimism among Akhilesh’s supporters faded.

That was the turning point.

At a time when the BJP, the BSP and the SP are jockeying for top spot in next year’s polls, an SP without Akhilesh will lose its edge. Mulayam Singh eventually realised that: on October 17, he fielded party vice president Kiranmay Panda to do some damage control. “The SP chief was talking about the procedure of electing a CM… Akhilesh is our CM and he will be the party’s CM face. This is Netaji (Mulayam)’s message,” Mr Nanda said.

Two days later, Akhilesh — clearly not mollified — wrote to his father in the latter’s capacity as president, announcing his Samajwadi Vikas Rath Yatra would commence on November 3 (he was to have started on October 3) “in preparation for the ..assembly elections”. The letter ended: "For your kind information."

But what was left unsaid was far more important: he was not going to depend on state chief Shivpal. On Friday, he made that even plainer. Instead of attending a SP meeting called by Shivpal, he held a parallel council of war for his yatra with the same set of workers. Then he called another meeting on Sunday, sandwiched between those called by Shivpal on Saturday and Mulayam Singh on Monday.

There is also uncertainty over whether Akhilesh will attend the November 5 SP silver jubilee celebrations in Lucknow.

On Thursday, adding fuel to the fire, SP MLC and Akhilesh acolyte Udayveer Singh wrote to Mulayam Singh, asking him to let Akhilesh replace him as party president. He also accused Sadhna Gupta, mother of stepbrother Prateek Yadav (believed to have business dealings with state minister Gayatri Prajapati, who was sacked, then re-instated) of harbouring ill feelings towards Akhilesh, and of colluding with Shivpal to harm him, something that thus far was only whispered in Lucknow’s drawing rooms.

Udayveer Singh has now been expelled from the party, and was on prime time TV on Saturday, blaming Amar Singh and the BJP for the deterioration of relations between father and son.

Against this backdrop, what will happen if the party does split? Official sources in Lucknow said that with talk already of “Syndicate and Indicate” (a reference to when Indira Gandhi split the Congress in the late 1960s and emerged victorious) doing the rounds, Akhilesh is being given the impression by his supporters that he can walk off with the party. But others point out that a split will create so much uncertainty among cadres and supporters, forcing them to rethink their options, that it will inevitably harm the party’s prospects.

However, a Yadav police officer close to the Yadav family told The Hindu that it would be premature to write off Akhilesh in the event of a split: “If the party splits,” he said, “Mulayam Singh Yadav will be the biggest loser, as the bulk of the party will stay with Akhilesh. The undecided voters who don't like the Yadav goon image may also go with Akhilesh. 

But the split will create a dilemma for the Muslims, whether to stay with him or shift to the BSP. But I would say it will take a month for us to evaluate the situation to see whether Akhilesh is able to recreate a robust organisation. Because Mulayam Singh still has a personal aura, experience of running elections and a organisation with him.”

Clearly, the coming month will be crucial for the futures of the SP, Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav.


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