Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to launch the party’s campaign for 2017 assembly elections from his constituency Azamgarh on October 7 is a sign that his son, Akhilesh Yadav, is not going to be the sole face of the campaign even after five years as Chief Minister.
Mulayam’s central role in the campaign is a signal that he plans to ward off the anti-incumbency against SP government with projection of more than one leaders and political manoeuvres like alliances with smaller outfits. This, however, ignores the perception that Akhilesh’s campaign was behind the SP’s unprecedented performance in 2012 and that he is still favoured despite the angst against the organs of his administration and party.
Akhilesh’s proposed “Samajwadi Vikas Rathyatra” which was announced in June, is yet to get scheduled. It is now likely to start after Mulayam’s rally which will surely give more ammo to his opponents who have made the issue of “multiple power centres within his family” an integral part of their campaigns. Mayawati said this at her campaign in Allahabad on Sunday. Amit Shah has said several times.
Recently, his uncle and PWD minister Shivpal Yadav criticised the state government and threatened to quit. Mulayam has attacked the government several times in the past. The revival of talks on the merger of gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Qaumi Ekta Dal, after it was called off at Akhilesh’s apparent opposition, point in the same direction.
In a candid speech last Wednesday, Akhilesh acknowledged in the Assembly that he became CM because of his father and expressed hope for return as CM after the elections. In a state with long electoral history of discarding the incumbents, the undermining of Akhilesh, will make it more difficult for the SP to make a comeback.
Earlier this year, two regional leaders, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa, returned to power after five years in power, a trend that could be heartening for Akhilesh. But he is not in total control of his party like the two women politicians.
In April, Mulayam appointed Shivpal party in-charge of UP, a new post seen as reduction of state unit president Akhilesh’s role in the party organisation as they head into the election. Mulayam has re-inducted Amar Singh six years after his expulsion. He is disliked by party’s Muslim face Azam Khan and their rivalry is well known in the party. As Amar recently threatened to quit, it shows the party could again be plagued with internal bickering during campaign.
On the other hand, Mulayam appears to be in favour of depending more on political manoeuvres like merger with QED than on Akhilesh’s face. That is why he has chosen Shivpal to lead the party organisation. That is why he seems to have chosen Azamgarh which has a substantial population of Muslims and Yadavs, as the venue to launch his campaign. Yadavs and Muslims have been two traditional support bases of the party. Any dent in their support will be a huge loss, something the BJP and the BSP have been trying to inflict.
In 2012, the party had won nine out of 10 assembly seats in Azamgarh district. Mulayam won the Lok Sabha seat despite a clean sweep by BJP all around him. But as he launches the campaign from the district he will face more questions than he did last time. SP had promised in 2012 that it will withdraw cases against Muslims implicated in terror cases. Most of SP government’s attempts failed to get any result as withdrawals were stayed by the courts. Youths from Azamgarh were linked to many terror cases in the past.