Drama continues to unfold
In yet another chapter of the drama unfolding in the Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav on Monday told the Election Commission (EC) that he remained its President and termed the convention called by a large section of the party leadership behind Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav “unconstitutional.” He asserted that the party’s electoral symbol, ‘Cycle’, should remain in his camp. This assertion comes just days after he appeared to have conceded to his son, Akhilesh Yadav. With the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections only a month away, the party seems keen on expending more energy on infighting than an election where the party is fending off anti-incumbency. Some observers contend that the election is for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s to lose, considering the impressive gains it made in the state during the Lok Sabha polls of 2014. Many have touted the upcoming series of Assembly elections in five states as an unofficial referendum on the BJP government at the Centre and an indicator of which way the 2019 general elections will swing. They contend that the only way the BJP will lose in UP is if a significant section of the electorate dumps them for another party. Outside the family feud that has engulfed the SP, even incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has in the past year carried out an extensive presidential-style public relations campaign to build his brand based on critical development and social welfare projects undertaken by his government. In a bid to highlight his record in office, and not merely focusing on sectarian agendas, Akhilesh has made a slight departure from the politics of identity espoused by his father and party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav. In fact, some political commentators have observed that Akhilesh’s bid to take over from his father is an attempt to reshape the party’s image from one bound by patronage politics, caste and religious identity to a political entity that addresses issues the economic aspirations of a primarily young electorate. This is not to suggest that patronage networks, caste or religious identities have little role to play in these elections. With the Congress hesitant to ally with the Akhilesh faction of the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party also vying for the Muslim vote, the ruling party in the State could be in danger of losing its Muslim-Yadav vote bank. Some political commentators believe that only a combination of Akhilesh Yadav’s popularity and Mulayam’s organisational nous will take a unified SP over the line.