To counter his son Akhilesh Yadav’s rebellion, Mulayam Singh Yadav plans to put together a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ on the lines of Bihar before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The Samajwadi Party chief called up RLD leader Ajit Singh seeking his support on Sunday, while brother Shivpal Yadav placed a call to a senior JD(U) leader on Saturday saying that the only way the SP could be saved was if “Netaji (Mulayam)” took over the reins of power from Akhilesh. “Netaji ko ab aage aana hi padega. Bina Netaji CM bane, na party bachegi, na government (Netaji will have to come forward. Without Netaji as CM, neither the party will be left, nor the government),” Shivpal reportedly said.
Both Mulayam and Shivpal are calling up possible leaders of such a Mahagathbandhan to also claim that it was SP general secretary Ramgopal Yadav, who is in Akhilesh’s camp, who had scuttled the plans for such an alliance before the Bihar elections.
Feelers have reportedly been sent to the Congress too by Mulayam’s men, though the party is yet to give an opinion. Sources said Ramgopal too has been meeting Congress leaders to judge if they would back any efforts by Akhilesh to assert himself.
The Mahagathbandhan that the SP is considering could include the SP, Congress, RLD, JD(U) and smaller parties.
Party sources said that apart from Shivpal, Amar Singh and several powerful old Socialists want Mulayam to replace Akhilesh as CM, as the first step in their gameplan. They allege that Akhilesh has drawn up plans to go alone in the elections and even readied a punchline, ‘Mera parivar Uttar Pradesh hai (Uttar Pradesh is my family)’. Mulayam’s supporters claim Akhilesh’s faction has also prepared posters and hoardings without Mulayam or Shivpal’s photos.
Shivpal told reporters in Lucknow on Sunday that the party will fight elections under the leadership of Mulayam.
Mulayam, 77, is reportedly not averse to returning as CM, taking a cue from Parkash Singh Badal and M Karunanidhi of holding onto the reins of power till as long as possible, if that leads to a temporary truce. However, there is a realisation in the SP that the two power centres of Akhilesh and Shivpal can’t continue together for long.
Veteran Socialists think that should Mulayam come forward to seek votes for the SP, the “core Samajwadi voter” would back the powerful old warhorse. He also carries more authority among Muslims, a crucial and substantial vote bank in UP, than Akhilesh, who is still seen as a leader in the making.
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Those close to Akhilesh say he is also weighing yet whether he can afford to cast aside the giant shadow of his father or not, and that he was forced to act on Sunday after a series of steps from the other side undemining his position.
As of now, Akhilesh is left with little role in the SP, which is set to decide tickets for sitting MLAs. Those
close to Akhilesh say a separate campaign by the CM would have no meaning if the candidates are not of his choice.
Party MLAs and candidates admit in private that they are worried about the effect the open sniping would have on their poll prospects, and fear that things may only get worse.
Should Akhilesh split, he would have to start from scratch and without the clandestine backing of either the BJP or Congress, he can’t move too far so quick. Akhilesh invoked Mulayam’s name on Sunday in his meeting with party legislators, saying he would remain with his father and the SP.
But the CM is enthused by the response he is getting from youth and women, who would be his first stop for votes should the need arise. His supporters are also confident that most party MLAs are with Akhilesh, and argue that he would be the new face of the party no matter how long Mulayam tries to remain in control.
The BJP, which is watching the developments with glee, calculates that if Akhilesh splits from the SP, he may gain but in the long run. For now, the BJP believes, even if there is a Mahagathbandhan, the division of the Muslim, poor and Dalit votes between such an alliance and the BSP would only be to its advantage.
BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya said on Sunday that the Yadavs were ready for a BJP government in the state because of the SP’s corruption. Mayawati has already urged Muslims, another group loyal to the SP, to avoid voting for a “faction-ridden” party and support it instead.