The family feud in the Samajwadi Party, still unfolding, has been rich in drama, with faction leaders indulging in expulsions, counter-expulsions, name-calling. Drifting between low comedy and farce, recent events have pushed the party to the brink of a split. With elections due in a few months, the SP has little time to regroup and present a united front to the public. In the event of the father and son parting ways, the voters will decide who is the real SP. It’s a sad fall for a party that boasted of a rich political legacy.
Mulayam Singh Yadav can arguably claim that the SP as it stands today is his creation. He built the party, combining the legacy of Ram Manohar Lohia’s ideas of socialism and social justice, Charan Singh’s peasant mobilisations, the Mandal politics launched by V.P. Singh and the secular resistance to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the 1990s. At 77, he is the only person of his generation who is still active in Samajwadi politics. This vacuum at the top made it easy for him to turn the party into a family fief and place son, brother, cousins, their wives and other relatives in key party positions. Son Akhilesh became the perfect vehicle to launch the new version of the SP, less averse to English and computers, more attractive to the younger electorate and Mulayam’s reading that the new times called for a new face was proved right in the 2012 assembly election. Akhilesh, who led the campaign, won a decisive mandate, weaning support from across caste faultlines, and was appointed chief minister. Thereafter, however, father and son, egged on by their courtiers, have been slowly moving at odds and apart. By all accounts, the reluctance of Mulayam to let go of power and allow Akhilesh a free hand in administration and the latter’s refusal to endorse Mulayam’s patronage politics seem to have allowed other power seekers to exploit the unease between them.
The developments in the SP are a betrayal of the party’s political inheritance. Lohiaite politics stood against promoting family interests and patronage. The SP, on the other hand, seems no more about ideas, and only a clutter of warring egos and personalities within the family. A patch-up between the father and son could still happen, but the party has already let down its possibilities.