The family squabbles over the control of the Samajwadi Party may have temporarily ended, but if political observers in both Lucknow and the national capital are to be believed, the fight may once again erupt closer to the UP elections next year. The latest round of confrontation between uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav and nephew, and Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav was sparked off because of the desire of both camps to wrest control of the organisation ahead of the elections. There is little doubt that Mulayam Singh Yadav or “Netaji”, as he is referred to, is the undisputed leader of the party. There is no quarrel so far as he is concerned, but the real battle is for succession, as an ageing Mulayam Singh is working overtime to keep his family as well as his supporters together.

Mulayam is an old war horse, seasoned over a period of time by the uncertainties of politics. Soon after Shivpal rebelled and trained his guns on Akhilesh, the former Chief Minister used all his resources to sort out things between the two closest members of his family. By allowing Shivpal to have the upper hand, seemingly, Mulayam forced his younger brother to take back his resignations from the various posts and commit publicly that he would support Akhilesh in the 2017 polls. Having done so, Mulayam is likely to ensure that his son’s detractors including Shivpal shower lavish praise on his government and his leadership so that they are in no position to criticise him once the elections are declared and the family feud again rages over the distribution of tickets.

Akhilesh is Mulayam’s eldest son and thereby enjoys his father’s complete confidence. Had it not been so, he would never have been appointed the CM. As a matter of fact, Mulayam could foresee his 61-year-old brother Shivpal’s ambitions and therefore anointed his son as his political heir during his own lifetime, settling the issue once and for all. However, politics within the clan and the overriding ambition of Shivpal, prodded by his close friend Amar Singh, to be the Chief Minister apparently triggered off the present crisis. It is an open secret that the family is divided in factions and while Akhilesh has the backing of his other uncle and Mulayam’s cousin Ram Gopal Yadav, Shivpal is supported by Akhilesh’s half brother Prateek and Amar Singh.

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Shivpal has worked as a nuts and bolts man in the organisation and Mulayam is keen that he should not go away from the party fold, especially when there is every possibility that the anti incumbency factor would have the likelihood of becoming overwhelming during the polls. He wants to ensure that in the event of a defeat, the Samajwadi Party’s best chance of survival for the next five years would be both unity in the family as well as in the organisation. However, he is shrewd enough to name Akhilesh as the Chief Ministerial face in the fiercely contested election. Samajwadi Party leaders realise that there is no better face than that of Akhilesh for the polls and they have already started giving the impression that the 43-year-old Chief Minister was disallowed to perform due to his overbearing uncle Shivpal Yadav and his supporters. It is being propagated that all that was well in UP was courtesy Akhilesh and whatever has gone wrong, like law and order, was due to the patronage some vested interests have been receiving from Shivpal.

As the unchallenged supremo of the Samajwadi Party, Mulayam does not wish to allow any of his supporters to move away. By declaring Amar Singh as the general secretary of the party, even when there was intense speculation that he had triggered off the confrontation between Akhilesh and Shivpal, Mulayam has managed to placate his brother’s camp. It is evident that not everyone is happy with the announcement, and according to sources, Ram Gopal Yadav, who normally sends out letters of appointment, declined to put his signature on Amar Singh’s declaration as a key office bearer. Thus, Mulayam was forced to write the letter in his own hand before giving it to the media for a formal announcement.

What is most significant is that before truce happened at Mulayam’s behest, the party had been fragmented in two camps, with most of the senior leaders backing Akhilesh, rather than his uncle. Mulayam seemed very happy with the development, since it was in line with his own thinking but decided to play the patriarch and publicly postured himself closer to his brother by stating that Shivpal was the number two in the party and was therefore ahead of Akhilesh. However, the message was correctly interpreted by the political class who knows that the Chief Minister can never be less powerful than the state president. Thus Akhilesh would play the most important role in distribution of tickets for the next round of elections, though the perception sought to be created by Shivpal’s supporters is that he was the man in charge.

The Samajwadi Party is banking on its traditional vote bank of Yadavs and Muslims to carry it through the polls, but archrival Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) seem to be emerging as strong challengers for wresting control of the government in 2017. The BJP, which had secured 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats, also hopes to do well, but its prospects are marred by its inability to put forward a credible face for the Chief Ministership.

However, the last word on the crisis within the Samajwadi Party is yet to be heard.

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