On October 4, 1992, Mulayam Singh Yadav formed the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Lucknow after political isolation and humiliation. His government had, in 1990, opened fire on Kar Sewaks. Since its formation, his party played a significant role in the politics of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as well as the country.
Now, three decades later, the SP, which polled 33.06% of votes and won 111 assembly seats in a 403-member UP assembly in the Vidhan Sabha elections, is struggling to stave off a split. And the challenge has come from within the large Yadav family, which is hugely ambitious.
Shivpal Singh Yadav, the estranged uncle of the national president of the SP, Akhilesh Yadav, is drifting towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He has sent many signals, one of which is his ideological shift in supporting a uniform civil code. Incidentally, Shivpal is among the few socialist leaders who have witnessed the creation of the party.
And now, after maintaining a studied silence for a month, Akhilesh has also made it explicitly clear that anyone close to the BJP cannot remain in the SP. He did not name anyone while replying to a question on Shivpal hobnobbing with the BJP, but lines have been drawn.
Though politics is full of imponderables, it appears the breakup will soon be final, with SP patriarch Mulayam also failing to keep the family or the party together. As some senior leaders stepped up their attack on Akhilesh after the 2022 poll defeat, Mulayam decided to finally shed his ambivalence on the emotive issue and come out openly in support of his son. Until now, Mulayam has been trying to cut a fine balance between his son, Akhilesh, and his brother, Shivpal. The latter believes he had a rightful claim on the party.
Shivpal, who had so far spared his brother Mulayam from mudslinging also retaliated by accusing him of not helping Mohammed Azam Khan, the Muslim face of the party, languishing in jail since February 2020. Shivpal last met Azam in jail on April 22.
Shivpal’s political shift has not come as a surprise in the least. Even before the assembly elections, he parted ways with the party and floated the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP) on August 29, 2018, almost a year after the SP lost the 2017 assembly elections to the BJP. The trouble began when his nephew, Akhilesh, was appointed chief minister in 2012, and later elected the national president of the party.
The promptness with which Shivpal was allotted a sprawling party office in the state capital as well security guards to him had indicated his closeness to the chief minister Yogi Adityanath and the BJP.
This begs the question: Will Shivpal split the party and take away a sizable chunk of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) with him to the BJP? Or will he strengthen the PSP, maintain his identity, emerge as a force to reckon with, and bargain for his space in the BJP-led coalition, much like the Apna Dal or Nishad party?
The BJP would prefer a split in the SP.
According to the political experts, Shivpal, who won the 2022 assembly polls from Jaswantnagar on an SP ticket, will have to break the party and merge with the BJP, to meet the constitutional requirements under the anti-defection law. The other option is to voluntarily quit the membership, and bargain for the Rajya Sabha for himself and the election of his son Aaditya from the Jaswantnagar seat that he would vacate.
Sources in the SP indicate that he is in discussion with MLAs, but breaking apart without offering them positions would be a Herculean task.
A weakened SP suits the BJP for many reasons. First, the BJP would avenge the pre-poll humiliation of its Cabinet minister and others defecting to the SP before the elections.
Second, it would weaken the main Opposition party with 111 legislators in a house of 403. The presence of other Opposition parties is negligible: The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has one MLA, and the Congress has two.
Third, with Shivpal in their party fold or even as an ally, the BJP will not only destabilise the SP and demoralise the rank and file, but also penetrate the key Yadav-Muslim vote bank.
Politicians do jump fences during political interregnum to save themselves from the ruling party’s fury. But five years is a long wait for them in an uncertain political climate, in which the BJP will only grow more assertive.
Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP would want to weaken the SP, whose strength in the Vidhan Sabha calculates to about 22 Lok Sabha seats (five assembly segments in one Lok Sabha seat). It is another matter that the voter’s choices vary in national and state elections.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is worried. It is for the first time that a split is staring in the face of the party that has dabbled in national politics, while dominating state politics since 1992.
Though Mulayam tried to bring back some semblance of unity within the family and the party before the 2022 elections, the defeat ended up widening the cracks of the fragile party. It also defied the long-believed notion that as long as Mulayam is the SP patriarch, the party would never fall.
His daughter-in-law, Aparna Yadav, was the first to break away from the party, and now his brother, Shivpal, is all set to move on with his son Aaditya Yadav with or without the support of some MLAs. Mulayam and Akhilesh have dismissed the idea that the BJP is ending the dynastic politics of the SP, but the fact remains that this is the most formidable challenge for the father-son duo.
Mulayam, who has taken a back seat by letting his son micro-manage the party, went to Mainpuri on April 14 to interact with the party leaders and workers. Someone who publicly ran down his son several times, often creating confusion in the party, has only been openly supporting him for the party’s performance in the elections. He repeatedly told cadres to stay united and stand firmly behind the party’s national president. Mainpuri is the epicentre of the Yadav belt in the central region of the state.
On Thursday Mulayam sent a message, loud and clear, that he is with his son Akhilesh. He drove down to the party office for a meeting with his son. By then even his most trusted lieutenant and co-founder of the party, Mohd Azam Khan, started raising his disgruntled voice against Akhilesh Yadav. After the 2017 defeat, Akhilesh once quoted John F Kennedy when he said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
Akhilesh, who once created quite the hype by building a coalition of Other Backward Castes to shed the Yadav-Muslim leader’s image, is now facing flak, especially from the same two communities that he is known to support. He is also criticised for remaining inaccessible to the MLAs at a time when the party is facing its worst-ever crisis.
A senior party leader said, “The time has come to hit the streets and display our strength or else the cadre would soon get disillusioned. Shivpal is not such a big threat as would be our failure to keep the government under pressure. He [Akhilesh] will have to take the lead as his father did, round the clock, round the year.”
Now, with the BJP out to demolish the SP before the 2024 elections, the threat can’t be taken lightly, even with his father’s full support. The SP has a difficult road ahead of it.
From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to Uttar Pradesh
The views expressed are personal