Finally, the Samajwadi Party-Quami Ekta Dal merger is off – after Akhilesh Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and the SP’s state president made his anger public today. He said he would always oppose entry of people like Mukhtar Ansari into the SP. He said that he had no involvement in this decision and he would always speak his mind wherever necessary.
On June 21, the Quami Ekta Dal (QED), the political party founded by Mukhtar Ansari, a notorious gangster and criminal-turned-politician who is presently lodged in jail, merged with the SP – in spite of the stiff opposition from Akhilesh Yadav. The merger was obviously to exploit Mukhtar Ansari’s appeal among the sections of Muslim voters who see him as some ‘Robin Hood’ figure.
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. But it didn’t work.
BUT IT DOESN’T END HERE
Akhilesh Yadav, the 42 year old chief-minister of Uttar Pradesh from the SP, is a sulking man even though he prevailed today – amid the flurry of inductions into the party that Akhilesh is not comfortable with.
And he is facing a resurgent Shivpal Yadav, Akhilesh’s uncle and a senior UP minister, who is seen being not on good terms with Akhilesh ever since Mulayam promoted his son Akhilesh instead of him as the UP chief-ministerial face in 2011. He looks calling the shots in the party now – even if the QED merger deal has been called off.
Huge 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. Four years ago, when Uttar Pradesh had voted Akhilesh Yadav in, he seemed to have a force of his own – a young face, fresh energy, a corruption-free vision – that effectively spoke to the voters – giving the SP 228 assembly seats in a House of 403. 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.
It seems the top brass of the SP doesn’t believe anymore in the development credentials of the Akhilesh Yadav government to bring home the electoral victory when the state goes to polls the next year. And the top brass has its own way of doing politics – the old SP way – setting and basing everything on caste equations.
SETTING ‘THEIR’ PRIORITIES RIGHT
So, the SP is trying to check the split in the OBC votes, an SP forte, in case of any possible threat presented by another influential OBC leader, Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister and his party JD(U) coupled with the BJP’s drive to rally the OBC votes by quoting Narendra Modi’s OBC credentials and by appointing an OBC, Keshav Prasad Maurya, as the state chief.
And the SP is trying to ensure that the Muslim voters remain loyal to it – the base of voters that, with the OBC votes, gave the SP a thumping victory in the 2012 Assembly polls.
Mukhtar Ansari is a minority face. The QED’s merger tells how desperate the SP is to attract the Muslim votes. There is a clear chance that Muslims will vote for Mayawati this time as they had done in 2007 that had given Mayawati a clear majority. The Muzaffarnagar riots, its aftermath and the Dadri lynching incidents have eroded the credibility base of the SP among the Muslims.
The SP top brass including Mulayam wants to win it back at any cost – even if it means antagonising Akhilesh. The failed QED merger with the SP to exploit Mukhtar Ansari’s appeal among the Muslim voters is just an example.
FIRST CLEAR INDICATIONS
When seen in the context of mergers and inductions in the party in the recent months, it tells us that the SP is not convinced with the winnability of Akhilesh.
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. Though the reports said today that Akhilesh would look after the upcoming elections, there was no official word about it.
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.
Projections, surveys and political analyses have started predicting a lead to Mayawati’s BSP. In an 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.
BACK TO THE OLD SP SCHOOL
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.
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 was going to take it.
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.
WINNABILITY IS THE PRIORITY
To remain in the race and to maintain its winnability prospects, the SP is trying to consolidate its traditional base of voters – 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 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 such faces more than ever as it seems Akhilesh Yadav is no more a face for them who alone can win the next assembly polls for the party.