WILL AKHILESH BE BOLD ENOUGH TO BREAK FREE?
The lay voter in Uttar Pradesh is flummoxed by the recent developments in the Samajwadi Party. The Yadav Parivar drama has all the elements of a feudal fight and struggle for control in a family-owned enterprise.
First, they are at a loss to figure out where it will all end. Will a settlement and truce be worked out in the larger interest of the family after a good deal of brinkmanship? Or are the cracks too deep to be repaired in a hurry?
While some subscribe to the theory of an elaborate drama (or “Nura Kushti”) being played out in several acts, others are speculating on possible scenarios of Akhilesh Yadav breaking free and returning with the support of the Congress or aligning with the BJP.
Second, what will be the political fallout of these differences? Will a chunk of the Samajwadi Party’s traditional Muslim vote-bank move away to the BSP to give Mayawati an edge?
With the strong possibility of a February election being announced immediately after Diwali, these are questions dominating chai and paan shop conversations in Lucknow.
Simple arithmetic would tend to indicate any division in the Muslim votes will go to the BJP’s advantage. Adding to that the spike in nationalist sentiments after the “surgical strikes” and the soft revival of Ayodhya, one is able to explain the BJP’s improved score in the latest opinion polls.
But electoral reality is seldom so straightforward and in Uttar Pradesh the triggers of mood swing can be many between now and February to change the equations. Far too much is at stake for any party to allow another a walk-over.
In all this the most interesting phenomenon is the evolution of AkhileshYadav as a leader in his own right coming out of his father’s shadow. When Akhilesh was anointed Chief Minister five years ago, people thought it to be another dynastic succession. But pretty soon Mulayam Songh Yadav made it clear that he was nowhere close to retiring to “Vanaprastha” or playing the role of Bhishma.
At the same time, Akhilesh asserted his mind to show that he was no proxy or puppet of his father. Almost from the word go the dynamic tension between father and son surfaced for all to see. There were occasional flashpoint in the equation which were contained even if they continued to simmer underneath.
Akhilesh started on a slightly disappointing note. He was unable to at once live up to the promise he had shown as an educated young politician of the next generation. There was a visible slide in law and order and development did not take off as expected. People feared a return to the old unruly Samajwadi era. Then came the setback of the 2014 Lok Sabha election and signs of anti-incumbency began to show.
Akhilesh was smart to pick up the signals early and in 2015 he shifted gear to speed up visible progress with his “Ummeed-o ki Pradesh” campaign. It would appear that he took the challenge manfully.
Successive by-elections showed the sheen had began to wear off the BJP and being a divided house they were yet to get the act together in Uttar Pradesh. He, therefore, began to prepare for a return on a positive mandate based on performance and delivery.
However, the hard-core and the pragmatic elements were not so convinced about Akhilesh’s strategy. In a way, it was a “no win” situation for them. If Akhilesh came out on top on the sheer strength of his self-built charisma, it would mean further marginalisation of the old guard. If he lost, that might put them in the wilderness for a long time to come.
With the almost certain polarisation of the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP (along with some Shia and OBC support) Mulayam could not afford to splinter his core base of Muslims and Yadavs. That would be an irrecoverable loss. Besides, both the manpower and the resources to fight the election are still controlled by the veterans like Shivpal Yadav. So, there is no way he can afford to alienate them.
The choice before Akhilesh is stark: Whether to accept his earlier position of being the “face” of the Samajwadi Party and continue in a relation of uneasy calm with the patriarch and the uncle. If he settles for that the threat of the younger Yuvraj being propped up to dethrone him will continue to haunt him.
The alternative is the bold and honourable option of setting out on his own and consolidating his personal political equity for the longer run, even if it means biding his time in the opposition for one term. He has age on his side to take that route. It would be a pity, both for Uttar Pradesh and Indian politics, if he does not.