17 Jan That Old Fox Mulayam
Mulayam’s victory in defeat: EC decision helps pass Samajwadi Party legacy to son Akhilesh.
While all political parties and people expected that the “cycle” election symbol of the Samajwadi Party could be frozen and that the two factions of the party would be contesting the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2017 on different symbols, the Election Commission (EC) shook up the political environment in the state on 16 January declaring that the Akhilesh Yadav-led faction was the Samajwadi Party and therefore entitled to use the symbol.
There were immediate cheers and celebrations at Akhilesh Yadav’s residence. Soon enough, his supporters tried to take control of the party office as well, even as there was gloom in the Mulayam Singh Yadav-Shivpal Yadav camp.
But more than the mere physical control of the party office, the decision has caused a sudden upheaval in the state’s politics. Not only has the party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav lost control over the party and its symbol, but all other parties, rather complacent till now hoping that the two factions would lose much of their clout if contesting under different symbols, have gone into a panic mode.
On Monday afternoon, Mulayam Singh Yadav had told his supporters that Akhilesh Yadav was “no well-wisher of Muslims” and that he would contest the election against his son. And, the Bharatiya Janata Party was announcing its first list of contestants when the Election Commission order swept away all the headlines.
While Mulayam Singh Yadav has no option but to either seek another symbol or opt for the symbol of the existing Lok Dal — as has been offered by the party’s president — for the Akhilesh Yadav camp, it is a huge boost just a day before nominations for the first round of polling starts. While it was announced that Akhilesh Yadav would start a whirlwind tour of the state from 19 January, the announcement of the much-anticipated alliance comprising Congress and other parties is also likely to happen in a day or two.
For all practical purposes, the EC decision has helped the transfer of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s political legacy to his elder son, something which the senior Yadav always wanted despite his criticism of the way Akhilesh Yadav ran the government. Mulayam Singh Yadav had started commenting upon Akhilesh Yadav’s style of working within a few months of the latter becoming the chief minister. Events of the last five months further helped establish that Akhilesh Yadav had the power and authority to challenge powerful old-timers in the party including uncle Shivpal Yadav. All this while, Akhilesh Yadav continued to say that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s word was final for him. Then came the big day on 1 January when Akhilesh Yadav was named party’s national president in place of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
By gaining control of the party and the symbol, now Akhilesh Yadav has the ultimate authority to finalise candidates, re-negotiate alliance terms with the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Janata Dal (United) and others, and embark upon a campaign jointly with the leaders of these parties.
Suddenly, the chances of Akhilesh Yadav emerging as the front-runner in the elections have brightened. The events of the past few months had dampened the spirits of the party cadre, but now, armed with the established party’s name and symbol, Akhilesh Yadav supporters are more confident than ever to emerge victorious again.
For Shivpal Yadav, this is perhaps the most difficult time of his political career. Having lost control of the party name, symbol, office and resources, he is now left with only a handful of legislators and office bearers of the party. He faces the challenge of finalising names for all 403 constituencies, organising the election campaign and coming up with an argument that he and Mulayam are the “real” Samajwadis who have been robbed of their party and symbol.
On the other hand, both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi are likely to announce their alliance very soon, albeit now on Akhilesh Yadav’s terms. And, even if Akhilesh Yadav reduces the number of seats to be given to the Congress, it is a bonanza for the latter. As per reports, till now, Akhilesh Yadav, his wife Dimple Yadav, Rahul and probably Priyanka will be the lead campaigners in the joint election campaign.
The development certainly comes as a big worry for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as both had been banking heavily on the weakened factions of the Samajwadi Party bereft of the party name and symbol. Akhilesh Yadav, besides having the government machinery at his disposal, has most of the legislators, the party name, structure and resources, and most importantly, the symbol. This strength puts him in a commanding position in dealing with would-be alliance partners and gives him a great edge in the campaign content. He would now obviously play a whole lot more on his so-called “revolt” to rid the party of undesirable elements.
And since he has to also shrug off the charge of being an ungrateful son, there is always the possibility that he will fulfil the promise he made some time ago — that he will head the party for just a short period of three months, to win the election and form the government, and then he would request Mulayam Singh Yadav to join as the national president again.
Strikingly, Akhilesh Yadav went to seek his father’s blessings as soon as the EC’s verdict was announced. A father would always want to transfer his heritage to the son, and a good son would always respect his father. While the first objective has been met in a roundabout manner, the second may come true very soon.