The 2022 assembly elections are still far away but with each party claiming it will fight alone, the work is clearly cut out for the Akhilesh-led SP. They have to become the alternative to the ruling BJP in the state.
From seeing himself as a potential kingmaker to ending up with a meagre five Lok Sabha seats, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav is perhaps at the nadir of his political career. Allying with arch rival Mayawati was undeniably a bold political experiment, but its quick unravelling soon after the Mahagathbandhan’s poor performance has weakened Akhilesh’s position within and outside the SP. While many Yadav leaders ended up eating dust in this election, Akhilesh’s bête noire and uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav has emerged stronger and smugger.
Shivpal and Mulayam together built the SP into a Yadav-dominant party that enjoyed considerable support among Muslims. However, after Mulayam made Akhilesh the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2012, relations between uncle and nephew started souring.
Finally after being ousted from the SP, Shivpal, founded the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (PSP) and fielded candidates against SP nominees across a swathe of seats. His special focus was to ensure defeat of his other nephews and clan members who had supported Akhilesh in the past. This family feud was one of the reasons for voter disenchantment with the SP as voters bought into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) narrative of the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) being practitioners of dynastic politics and that the Mahagathbandhan was an opportunistic alliances.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, seen as a senior and seasoned politician across the political spectrum, is now keen to reunite the feuding family. Soon after the poll debacle he reached out to Shivpal for a possible merger. However, Shivpal — a veteran of UP’s complex caste-based politics — seems to be one step ahead of his brother and nephew. When a clamour of reporters asked him about speculation of a possible merger with the SP, Shivpal used the opportunity to score political brownie points. He played the victim — that he was treated unfairly by Akhilesh — and ruled out any possibility of re-joining the SP fold.
At the same time, he left open the possibility of a strategic tie-up for the 2022 assembly polls. In another move that underscored Shivpal’s changed political moorings, he recently accompanied Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi to Mulayam’s residence for a courtesy call to inquire about the health of the ailing SP patriarch.
For SP, the future looks uncertain. In terms of seats it has not improved its tally, and it terms of perception Akhilesh’s decision to ally with the BSP is seen as an immature move made despite warnings from SP old timers and Mulayam himself. With Shivpal coming out of the elections as a stronger leader, many SP cadre and local leaders are mulling their future under the Akhilesh-led SP. This feeling is only aggravated by the BJP’s unstoppable victory run across India.
If there is a silver lining for the SP in this debacle it is that Akhilesh has attempted to break out of the caste mould of his party and reached out to sections such as scheduled castes. He has also further cemented the SP’s support among Muslims who are a sizeable ‘vote bank’ in UP. Finally, by trying out something new, he has endeared himself to the progressive section of people in UP.
The 2022 assembly elections are still far away but with each party claiming it will fight alone, the work is clearly cut out for the Akhilesh-led SP. They have to become the alternative to the ruling BJP in the state, and whether they do so by allying with breakaway faction PSP and other smaller parties, or going solo is a political call that has to be thought through now and not on the eve of elections. The future of SP and Akhilesh Yadav as its President is now intertwined — what is clear is that the SP won’t be able to survive another poll defeat.Valay Singh is a freelance journalist. Views expressed personal.