“There will be no division in the party till I am here… We are one big family, period.” Mulayam Singh Yadav looked haggard and visibly defeated when he repeated the same statement six times in a row.
On Friday morning at 19, Vikramaditya Marg, the Lucknow office of Samajwadi Party (SP), its 77-year-old patriarch witnessed something he had always feared — one of SP’s worst crises since its inception in 1992. Amidst slogans of “Akhilesh bhaiya zindabad (Long live Akhilesh)” and “Shivpal tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain (Shivpal continue your struggle, we are with you)”, Mulayam could sense the rebellion when he shouted, “Aap log chup ho jaiye, main baat kar raha hoon (Please be quiet, I am saying something).” Those who have followed Mulayam’s political career know that when he speaks, SP workers listen in rapt attention. Today, things were different.
After repeated affirmation from the SP chief that all is well within the party, the sloganeering died down. Supporters of both Shivpal Yadav and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav as well as sections of the media were quick to conclude that Mulayam has managed to fight the fire.
Minutes after Mulayam’s address, and within five minutes of each other, Akhilesh and Shivpal entered the party office. The three Yadavs had a 20-minute-long meeting, at the end of which Akhilesh was seen leaving in a huff. The otherwise genial CM ignored the media’s questions. This was followed by three major announcements by Mulayam —
Akhilesh can take no consolation from any of these statements. “On the face of it, things look settled, but the party’s disintegration is only beginning now,” a close aide of Akhilesh, who is also part of his campaigning team, told Newslaundry. “Just imagine the dent in Akhilesh’s image when he has to induct the corrupt Prajapati back into his cabinet.”
Before coming face-to-face with Mulayam and Shivpal, Akhilesh made his demands clear during a political conclave organised by Hindi news channel India TV in Lucknow. “I will give up everything if someone asks me humbly. But then I should have the authority to distribute tickets,” he had said. Clearly, he wanted to send a message to his uncle Shivpal that candidates with a chequered political background are not welcome in the party. He also understands that the odds are in Shivpal’s favour, with Mulayam backing his brother. “The one who is on the top, is always lonely,” said Akhilesh during the conclave.
Akhilesh knew that during the meeting with his father and uncle, everything would not be in his favour, but he had not anticipated that all the decisions taken by Mulayam would undermine his own authority. “He (Akhilesh) hasn’t put the issue to rest, but at this point, he wants to focus on Samajwadi Rath Yatra, his brainchild, beginning October 3,” said a close confidante of Akhilesh.
Meanwhile, Shivpal is elated that his threats to leave the party have finally consolidated his position. Outwardly, though, he maintained, “I am a humble foot soldier of the party. I will do whatever Netaji (Mulayam Singh) will ask me to do.”
Although things are calm now, the damage to the party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly election is already done. The Opposition is happy with the family feud. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati even offered some advice to Mulayam. “If what was being said about Akhilesh’s rebellion against his father was true, then Mulayam should take sanyaas (retirement),” she suggested.
At the time of filing this report, the SP office at Lucknow wore a deserted look, with supporters of both factions back in their respective homes, waiting for the next hint from their leader.