One can easily read this writing on the wall going by the developments in the recent months.
A sulking Akhilesh Yadav, the 42 year old chief-minister of Uttar Pradesh from the Samajwadi Party (SP) – amid the flurry of inductions into the party that Akhilesh is not comfortable with!
And a resurgent Shivpal Yadav, Akhilesh’s uncle and a senior UP minister, who is seen not on good terms with Akhilesh ever since Mulayam promoted his son Akhilesh instead of him as the UP chief-ministerial face in 2011 – looks calling the shots in the party now!
On June 22, Swami Prasad Maurya, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA and the Leader of Opposition of the party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly quit the BSP alleging Mayawati of being dictatorial and corrupt. He alleged that the OBC workers are ignored in the BSP and Mayawati is openly auctioning party tickets for the next assembly polls. Mayawati hit back and said Swami Prasad Maurya felt ‘suffocated’ in the BSP because she denied tickets to his son and daughter and that she herself was soon to expel Maurya from the BSP.
Yes, these types of ‘ins and outs’ from every political party are expected to pace up as the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls approach near. The UP assembly is completing its term in May 2017.
But what makes Maurya’s move significant and indicative of the SP’s old wing taking control of the things is the fact that the top SP leadership rushed to praise Swami Prasad Maurya soon after the BSP LoP quit his party. They said he was a good person and a respectable politician. Azam Khan went on to the extent to say that he wanted Maurya to join his party. It says a lot that who would have curated the move then. Later in the day, Swami met with Azam Khan and Shivpal Yadav and it is expected that he will be inducted as a cabinet minister in the scheduled expansion of Akhilesh’s cabinet on June 27. Akhilesh was not so quick to react on the development though Akhilesh praised Maurya today.
Swami Prasad Maurya has been the BSP’s OBC face. He is an influential leader and can help maintaining the balance of the OBC votes in the favour of the SP which is trying to check the split in the OBC votes, an SP forte, in case of any threat presented by another influential OBC leader, Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister, and his party JD(U). So Akhilesh should welcome the move – as he was seen doing today.
But when seen in the context of other mergers and inductions in the party in the recent months, it tells us that the SP is now not at all convinced with the winnability of Akhilesh Yadav when the state goes to the polls next year.
Projections, surveys and political analyses have started predicting a lead to Mayawati’s BSP. In a television opinion poll in March 2016, she was shown winning 185 seats in the 403 members UP assembly along with 31% vote share, while the SP was shown reduced to just 80 seats with 23% votes. The projection showed the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the second largest party with 120 seats and 24% votes.
Besides, Mayawati has also been cosying up with the Congress. Her decision to support Harish Rawat in the court monitored trust vote in the Uttarakhand assembly was a clear signal to the Muslim voters that she is against the BJP.
Her projected 31% vote share would make a formidable alliance when taken together with the Congress’s 12% that it got in the 2012 UP assembly polls.
That is more than enough for the party to sail through given the fact that the BJP swept UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with a 42% vote share. The BJP along with its ally Apna Dal won 73 out of 80 UP Lok Sabha seats then.
Then there is another pillar of the BSP’s social engineering – the Brahmin votebank. Brahmins constitute around 13% of voters in the state and were an important factor in ensuring the BSP’s emphatic victory in the 2007 UP assembly polls.
These developments – coupled with the sky-high anti-incumbency against the Akhilesh Yadav government and a rock-bottom law and order scenario in the state, are giving the SP nightmares on how to solve the 2017 assembly polls riddle.
As a result, the party leadership, sans Akhilesh Yadav, has probably decided that it is now the tried and tasted way of identity politics ahead – an identity politics in UP that is riddled with caste and community equations that goes to any extent to appease voters – even if it means marching with dreaded gangsters like Mukhtar Ansari.
Before the 2012 assembly polls, the old monks of the SP top brass led by the SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav were all prepared to induct DP Yadav, a criminal-turned politician, into the party. But Akhilesh put his foot down declaring that since DP Yadav was a criminal, there was no place for him in his party. Akhilesh seemed to have a force of his own then – a young face, fresh energy, a corruption-free vision – that effectively spoke to voters – giving the SP 228 assembly seats in the poll. People saw that there was a person in the SP who could wash the taint of SP being a political party harbouring criminals.
After four years of Akhilesh Yadav’s in the Lucknow secretariat, all those hopes have gone. The force looks dissipated. Though there have been no allegations of individual corruption on Akhilesh, no one can deny that UP has parallel power centres run by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav and Azam khan – and Akhilesh is not in control. They all behave as if they are the chief ministers of the state. And they have their own way to do politics – the old SP way – setting and basing everything on caste equations.
We all saw the most visible testimony to this when on June 21, the Quami Ekta Dal (QED), the political party founded by Mukhtar Ansari, a notorious gangste and criminal-turned-politician, merged with the SP – in spite of the stiff opposition from Akhilesh Yadav. So displeased was Akhilesh with the merger that he sacked his senior minister Balram Yadav, the mediator behind the merger deal, and cancelled his all official engagements of the day. Later, Shivpal who is said to have masterminded the deal along with Amar Singh, another recent SP re-inductee into the party, tried to pacify Akhilesh by saying that the deal had blessings of Mulayam. Balram Yadav, too, reiterated this claim.
If DP Yadav is a criminal whom Akhilesh Yadav cannot see in his party, Mukhtar Ansari is synonymous with terror. And even though Mukhtar’s brother Afzal Ansari said that the QED had nothing to do with Mukhtar, who is in jail in a murder case, no one is going to take it. Now it is upto Akhilesh that how he justifies it to the electorate.
In and out of BSP, Mukhtar Ansari formed his own political outfit QED in 2010 after he was ousted from the BSP. He had almost won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi. BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi could win only with a thin margin of 17000 votes in the last rounds of the counting. He won the 2012 UP assembly polls from the Mau constituency. And this all in spite of him being a dreaded criminal.
Mukhtar Ansari is a minority face. The QED’s merger tells how desperate the SP is to attract the Muslim votebank – the votebank that supported it in the 2012 assembly polls. Now there is a clear chance that Muslims will again vote for Mayawati. The Muzaffarnagar riots, its aftermath and the Dadri lynching incidents have eroded the credibility base of the SP among the Muslims.
And the SP top brass including Mulayam wants to win back it at any cost – even if it means antagonising Akhilesh! The QED has been merged with the SP to exploit Mukhtar Ansari’s appeal among the Muslim voters who see him as some ‘Robin Hood’ figure.
The first clear indication to which way the wind was going to blow in the SP came in April 2016 when Mulayam made Shivpal incharge of the SP’s UP unit, a position that effectively makes him the election incharge for the next polls. The responsibility was given to Akhilesh in 2012.
Next month, in May 2016, Amar Singh, an old SP hand and a Mulayam favourite, who was expelled from the party, and a person whom Akhilesh doesn’t like, was taken back in the SP fold. Amar Singh is seen as a master deal-broker in the political circles. The same month, another influential OBC leader and an old SP hand, Beni Prasad Verma, Mulayam’s friend-turned-foe, was re-inducted into the party after nine years. Both Amar Singh and Beni Prasad Verma are now Rajya Sabha members from the SP.
To remain in the race and to maintain its winnability prospects, the SP is trying to consolidate its traditional votebanks – OBCs and Muslims – and the way to do that is – ‘making deals and poaching personalities’ – no matter what.
And all these have blessings of Mulayam Singh Yadav – even if Akhilesh doesn’t like Mukhtar Ansari or Amar Singh. Beni Prasad Verma, Swami Prasad Maurya and Mukhtar Ansari are influential caste leaders and they can effectively swing votes. And Amar Singh is a strategic taskmaster expert in political deals. The SP needs them more than ever as Akhilesh Yadav is no more a face for them who can win the next assembly polls for the party.