High octane sound and fury in ruling Samajwadi Party with crucial Assembly polls round the corner dominated the political spectrum in Uttar Pradesh in 2016 which also witnessed one of the country’s worst train tragedies in recent times that left 150 dead in Kanpur. Mulayam Singh Yadav virtually grappled with an unprecedented family feud that threatened to split SP ahead of the key elections, prompting major Opposition parties BJP and BSP to rework their caste arithmetic in the poll-bound state.
Cracks in the Yadav clan came to the fore around mid-year when senior SP leader Shivpal Yadav announced merger of Quami Ekta Dal (QED) of mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, much to the chagrin of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Within three days of the announcement, SP parliamentary board called it off under pressure from the chief minister, setting off a chain of unsavoury events that shook the ruling party and the government for days till a fragile peace was brokered by Mulayam.
With Assembly elections weighing heavily on his mind, the chief minister in an effort to project himself as “Mr Clean”, axed two ministers, including tainted Mines Minister Gayatri Prajapati, triggering tremors in the party that saw an angry Mulayam strip his son Akhilesh of the post of state SP chief and install his uncle Shivpal in his place.
In a tit-for-tat action, Akhilesh took away key portfolios of his uncle, leaving him fuming so much so that he sacked a number of pro-chief minister youth leaders who headed various front organisations.
Mulayam’s cousin Ramgopal Yadav also bore the brunt of the raging storm in the party as he was not only sacked from key posts, but expelled from SP for six years for backing Akhilesh and opposing Rajya Sabha colleague Amar Singh, the “outsider” tarred as a villain of the piece in the entire episode.
As the noise within SP proved to be music to Opposition ears, Mulayam feared the ugly developments might hamper SP’s poll prospects. He revoked all expulsions and made the fighting leaders bury their hatchet to send the message that all-is-well in the party.
As Samajwadi Party fought bouts of internal feud, BSP supremo Mayawati sought to fish in troubled waters, seeking to drive a wedge in the ruling party camp to wean away the crucial Muslim vote bank.
Muslims, who account for nearly 20 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population, are considered traditional votebank of SP and their votes could end up with BSP if the internecine war in Mulayam’s party did not end, experts feel.
While divided Muslim votes translate to gains for BJP, a consolidation will change the poll arithmetic as minorities play a crucial role in at least 125 of the 403 constituencies up for grabs.
BSP too faced rebellion with senior leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, an OBC, and R K Chaudhary, a Dalit, besides some other legislators quitting the party, accusing Mayawati of “selling” party tickets and slamming her style of functioning. Brajesh Pathak, former MP and prominent Brahmin face of BSP, too parted ways with Mayawati.
BJP, on the other hand, went all out to woo voters holding ‘Parivartan Yatras’ across the state addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and a host of senior leaders, including Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, attacking SP, BSP and Congress in the same breath.
To counter Opposition onslaught, Akhilesh all along harped on development tune, propagating among the masses various welfare schemes, with recent inauguration of rupees multi-crore Lucknow-Agra Expressway and trial run of Lucknow Metro coming in handy to drive home his message.
Congress on its part tried to regain its lost moorings in the state with its Vice President Rahul Gandhi setting out on a Deoria-to-Delhi ‘Kisan Yatra’ to highlight issues faced by farmers. The party fielded former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate in UP expecting to garner Brahmin votes.
As the year almost drew to a close, note ban decision struck all and sundry as a bolt from the blue with non-BJP parties highlighting problems faced by commoners to slam Modi, who turned tables on them saying only those with huge black money were crying hoarse and often poking fun at Mayawati for her “discomfort” in the wake of demonetisation.
The year will also be remembered for one of the worst train tragedies in recent years in the country near Kanpur. At least 150 passengers were killed and more than 200 injured, nearly half of them grievously, when 14 coaches of Indore-Patna Express derailed in Pukhrayan in Kanpur rural area on November 20 due to suspected rail fracture.
Passengers were jolted out of their sleep as the Patna-bound train jumped the tracks, badly damaging four ordinary sleeper coaches in which hundreds were trapped. Two compartments telescoped into each other leading to heavy casualties.
In another tragedy, 24 people were killed and 50 injured in a stampede on an overcrowded bridge on Varanasi-Chandauli border when followers of a religious leader were crossing it to attend a congregation on October 15.
Thousands of followers of Jai Gurudev were proceeding towards Domri village in Chandauli for the two-day samagam (camp) resulting in stampede on Rajghat bridge. Among the deceased, 20 were women.
This was the second tragedy involving followers of Jai Gurudev in a span of four months as armed devotees owing allegiance to its Ram Vriksha Yadav faction clashed with police in Jawahar Bagh in Mathura on June 2.
Violence over eviction of the illegal occupants led to death of 29 people including an SP-rank officer and 60-year- old Ram Vriksha.
Over 40 others were injured in the clash when police were trying to remove encroachment from Jawahar Bagh, occupied by activists believed to be of Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi, on the directions of the Allahabad High Court.
Jai Gurudev died in Mathura in 2012 at the age of 116. In a spurious liquor tragedy that hit adjoining Etah and Farukhabad districts in July, 25 people died while few others lost their eyesight.
Over 40 dengue deaths were reported from various parts of Uttar Pradesh, mainly Lucknow, during the second half of the year, prompting the Allahabad High Court to expressed serious displeasure on inaction of the UP government in not taking strict action against doctors and officials of health department responsible for not tackling dengue menace.