Clash of the Titans
Uttar Pradesh is in an election mode, which becomes apparent the moment one walks out of the Lucknow airport or railway station with posters and large bill boards all over the city with face of Akhilesh Yadav asking for support. But the feud within the Yadav family for over a month has not only split the party leaders and workers but led to occasional fisticuffs between Akhilesh’s men and his uncle Shivpal Yadav’s supporters. Both were expelling each other’s supporters. Mulayam Singh caught in the crossfire between the son and the brother. He seemed to have drilled some sense between the two.
The sight must have gladdened every sincere Samajwadi Party leader and worker. Gathered at the flag-off of the Rath yatra of Akhilesh Yadav was the entire Yadav clan members who were at each other’s throat for over a month. With both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Singh Yadav sharing the stage with Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh politics took yet another dramatic turn. It became clear that even Shivpal Yadav had condescended to accept that Akhilesh will be chief minister if the party returned to power.
On his part Akhilesh seemed resigned to accept that his father would decide the party’s politics of alliances and would also accept his instructions on party matters. The trinity also concluded that the BJP was on ascendancy and Samajwadi party would have to contend with it. Thus at the launch the three leaders chose BJP as their main target of attack. Perhaps, they are already thinking beyond the 2017 state assembly elections.
Indeed, anointment of Akhilesh as the face and future of the party, and winning the all-too-crucial elections are two different things and Mulayam knows this better than anyone else. In Mulayam’s calculations, the SP allegedly may not get more than 150 of the total 404 assembly seats on its own strength this time. He would need allies. And he certainly seems to know the current political reality much better than what the numerous psephology experts put together.
The patriarch addressing the people gathered at the sprawling La Martinere grounds, where Akhilesh’s election campaign was flagged off, Mulayam dedicated his son’s rath yatra to the jawans of the Indian Army. And, on his part, Akhilesh too displayed the same sentiment in favour of the Army. Both father and son knew that they have got to look ultra-nationalistic to beat the BJP, which had made the Army’s recent surgical strikes across the border an election issue indirectly.
The father-son-uncle trio was also aware of the fact that Rahul Gandhi and many other top opposition leaders had gathered at Bhiwani in Haryana to attend the cremation of Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal, a former soldier who had allegedly committed suicide over an insufficient pension.
Mulayam made a point to mention jawans. He said that India had the bravest soldiers on earth. “And I know the pains of the jawans”, he added. He had been Defence Minister of India in 1990s.“The party is united and we shall ensure that the BJP is kept out of Uttar Pradesh”, the trio declared and tried its best to hammer home the point that “it’s UP that decides India’s political direction”.
Before the start of the rath yatra, Mulayam Singh advised his son that the slogan should not be just yatra for vikas but for vijay and vikas which was promptly complied with. But whether it was an omen or whatever one might conclude the rath, an especially built Mercedes hi-tech-coach broke down after covering less than a kilometre. It is said that the driver drove with hand brake on with the result that the clutch plates etc burnt out. Akhilesh had to take his official SUV. But the enthusiasm of thousands of workers was really high. And SP would need it even to be in a position to get into some alliance to form the government.
But the alliance with Lalu Yadav and Ajit Singh will not be of much use. Lalu cannot have more influence on UP Yadavs than Mulayam Singh. How much influence Ajit Singh has in his area in western UP is debatable. In the 2014 election both he and his son were badly defeated.
Muslim Vote in Uttar Pradesh
In Bihar the BJP lost badly because Muslims unitedly voted for the Grand Alliance of Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the Congress. This is why in UP, all parties except BJP are ardently wooing the community’s vote. But will the M vote matter in Uttar Pradesh? Well, the key difference between UP and Bihar is urbanization. Uttar Pradesh is a lot more urbanized than Bihar and this will make all the difference.
UP has a huge Muslim vote, like Bihar. But it is not equally distributed. The M vote in urban areas can go up to a formidable 35 per cent but in rural areas it is more like 15 per cent. This means the M vote is not big enough to destroy the BJP in rural areas, while BJP is going to sweep the urban areas anyway. Even in Bihar, BJP was ahead of the united opposition in urban areas.
The factors now
(a) Opposition in UP is divided into at least two parties, if not three.
(b) UP has a huge upper caste vote, unlike Bihar.
(c) UP has a long history of responding to Hindutva, unlike Bihar which is more of a Mandal state.
d) Aura of surgical strikes around Modi.
Analysts expect that the BJP will sweep urban Uttar Pradesh. And urban UP accounts for a huge number of seats. In rural areas there aren’t enough M voters to stop the BJP. And while Muslims are still confused about the strongest opponent of BJP, the news of Muslims looking to polarize is already common sense information for every Hindu in Uttar Pradesh. Those planning to polarize are still trying to decide who to polarize around, but counter-polarized votes know exactly where to go.
One former Muslim MP, based in Aligarh said that 80 per cent Muslims will vote BSP. But five per cent will vote for development.
These are the most informed and conscious voters (mainly youth), who are not communal in their thinking. In Bihar, the BJP had to share this vote with Nitish Kumar. In UP, Akhilesh could have got some of this, but this 5 per cent segment has already understood that he isn’t going to win. Mayawati actually could have gotten a bite of this 5 per cent by showcasing her impressive law and order record. But she hasn’t done that instead she is busy cravenly appeasing the M community. And this 5 per cent block of conscious and informed voters finds that kind of politics is abhorrent.
In a state where the last two elections were won by the party that got a mere 30 per cent of the vote (SP didn’t actually even reach 30 per cent in 2012…they were 29 and some fraction), this means UP is already in the BJP’s bag, by this calculation .
At 30 per cent, BJP will emerge as single largest party. Every additional 1 per cent will give them 15-20 more seats. At 35 per cent, they will be close to 300. BJP is said to have already crossed the 30 per cent threshold quite comfortably. With a base of 43 per cent from the Lok Sabha polls and all recent opinion polls showing Modi’s popularity almost at same level as mid 2014, it would be surprising if BJP is anywhere below 33 per cent at the moment.
UP with 80 Lok Sabha seats in the Parliament, matters most in national politics. After all, the state is called the political cauldron in India. The coming elections are too crucial for all parties. For the BJP, 2017 would more or less make it clear if it can return to power in 2019. For the SP and the BSP, it is likely to decide whether they would remain politically relevant in national politics. And for Rahul Gandhi, it’s do or die.
As far as the ruling party is considered, the unity shown on the launch of Akilesh’s rath yatra was very encouraging. But within 48 hours it was clear that the show of amity was farcical, the animosity is too deep. Shivpal Yadav speaking at the silver jubilee celebrations of Samajwadi Party although ruled himself out of the chief ministerial nomination, he got emotional and made it obvious that in his view Akhilesh did not deserve to be made chief minister.
The old is gold, but the new is not impressed
The Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is in his autumn years and it is unfortunate that the party workers seem unsure whom he wants to be his heirs—chief of the party and chief of the government if the party returns to power. Shivpal Yadav aside his brother’s legacy in this race who believe in the politics of the old and proven ways to do, son Akhilesh Yadav, on the other hand, wants to change the traditional image of the party. As a result, the battle for supremacy in the party has vertically divided it into two camps. Both the combatants and their supporters have been in the mood to see an all-out battle and soon to see any solution.
Yet, the ailing patriarch with the experience of 50 years of arduous politicking, Mulayam Singh said that “his party will remain alive”. He is making efforts to control his brother and son, but in the process he, maybe, without realising it, has shown bias towards Shivpal because both are of the old school.
Rather, it is a tussle between the old generation and the new generation. Nearly four years ago, when Mulayam Singh Yadav chose his son, it was believed, at that time, Akhilesh will inherit the party. And Shivpal factor was not considered. He grew in strength in the party and considered himself natural successor of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party organisation. His hold on workers is far more than that of Akhilesh’s.
Sensing this Mulayam Singh made his brother president of the party by removing Akhilesh which led to an unprecedented ugly and messy feuding within the Yadav parivar.
But the public perception of Shivpal and Mulayam Singh’s close adviser Amar Singh, whom Mulayam, made general secretary of the party, in defiance of Akhilesh, is not very good. Akhilesh has far more clean image and is very popular with the youth. He is quite unhappy with his father for giving weightage to Shivpal and Amar Singh.
Akhilesh may retain its image, even if the other side does not, but during his tenure he has not been able to work independently. The lawlessness in villages has made him unpopular. Both sides thus have been trying to patch-up and present a united front but at the ground level their workers continue to engage in fisticuffs.
Akhilesh and Shivpal go into 2017 election to fight — former with the slogan vijay and vikas, and the latter will use the organisation to spread the message and bring voters to polling booths So, it will be a combination of old socialist ethos with the youth’s aspiration of development and cleaner image. But the question remains what after a win or a defeat. Akhilesh will be chief minister if SP wins but Shivpal will be breathing down his neck. Will it lead to a split — if it does Akhilesh will have a clear advantage. In case, SP loses, a split is inevitable But Akhliesh will remain a factor in UP politics. He has succeeded in building his image as a leader who is educated, conscious, honest and gentle.
Taking a dig at the UP CM, he said that some people have had it easy in their careers by being somebody’s son, due to the virtue of inheritance. “Kuch logo ko bhagya se mil jata hai, aur kuch logo ko mehnat se. Kuch logo ko virasat se bhi mil jata hai. Par kuch logo ko zindagi bhar kaam karte karte mar jate hain par unko kuch nahin milta (Some people achieve things because of their luck, others have to work hard for it. Some people can simply inherit success, while some people sacrifice themselves and still don’t get anything)”.
Making a strong statement in full public view, Shivpal also said that posts do not define a person’s contribution. Recalling veteran leader Jaiprakash Narayan’s legacy, he said he never held a post, stating that it is never about the position of power that one holds. “Sack me, humiliate me but I’ve done well,” Shivpal said alluding to his ouster from the cabinet by Akhilesh. “Khoon mangoge toh khoon bhi de denge, CM kabhi nahi banana. Kitna bhi apmaan karlo, main jaanta hoon accha kaam kia hai (If they want blood, I’ll give it to them but I don’t want to be the chief minister. You can insult me as much as you want, I know I have done good work),” he said. Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh were present.
At the same time he wished CM Akhilesh to win upcoming UP election. “It is because of Netaji’s struggle and the risks he took that SP was able to form the government in UP not once but thrice,” he said. He then reiterated that he was ready to sacrifice anything for the party but he didn’t want to be the chief minister. “Jitna tyag lena chaho le lo, mujhe mukhya mantri nahi banana hai (you can take anything from me, but I don’t want to be the chief minister),” he said.
Mulayam has continually insisted that there is no rift within the party even as both Shivpal and Akhilesh seem to be at odds with each other. The party supremo also made it clear that the legislators after winning the election would choose their chief ministerial candidate.
But will they win? Another round of fighting will be at the time of ticket distribution. Mulayam Singh will have to be a diplomat and a bit of autocrat to reconcile his brother and son. At the Silver Jubilee Celebrations Shivpal was seen asking a close supporter of Akhilesh, who Shivpal had expelled to leave the stage.
It is certain as Party President will cut out all Akhilesh’s men whom Shivpal has expelled. Hopefully, uncle and nephew will not put their candidates against each other. Mulayam Singh is being pragmatic,as he reportedly estimates that his party will not win more than 150 seats.
by Vijay Dutt