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TUESDAY WASN’T the first time Mulayam Singh Yadav — Samajwadi Party supremo, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Lok Sabha MP and ‘Netaji’, the unquestioned leader, for everyone in the party – had backed brother Shivpal Yadav openly. He had taken on son Akhilesh Yadav’s government as recently as August 15, when, addressing party workers on Independence Day, he had said in the presence of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister that the SP would split if Shivpal leaves.
Back in November 2013, with barely months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, Mulayam had chosen Shivpal to manage party affairs for the polls. At the time he had overlooked cousin and party general secretary Ramgopal Yadav, who was deemed an equally big candidate for the post and was then a more powerful leader in the party.
Although on Tuesday he had had to remove Akhilesh from the post of Samajwadi Party’s (SP) state unit chief, and thereby trigger what has been dubbed by political opponents as family drama being played out in public as the chief minister hit back by divesting uncle Shivpal of all portfolios, party old-timers say Mulayam has little option but to depend on his brother if SP is to win next year’s election.
So what makes Shivpal Yadav so important for Mulayam?
Ironically for someone at the centre of a full-blown crisis, many SP insiders say it is the “cool-headed and composed manner” in which Shivpal operates that leaves him best suited to end the ongoing infighting.
Even though Akhilesh is the party’s face as the chief minister, and the likes of Amar Singh have over the years wielded influence across party lines and leaders such as Azam Khan hits the headlines far more frequently, it is Shivpal, as the “organisation man”, who is seen as the most important leader in SP after “Netaji” for a large section of party workers. Shivpal’s regular interactions with party cadre workers and his frequent tours across the state mean he is more in touch with the grassroots than most other leaders, which makes him invaluable for Mulayam, say insiders.
As the chief minister, Akhilesh will remain the poster boy for next year’s Assembly polls that is nothing if not a huge challenge for the ruling party. He will, once again, lead a state-wide march to drum up support as the elections approach — “From Oct 3, Samajwadi Vikas rath Yatra — Vikas se vijay ki ore,” Akhilesh announced on Twitter on Wednesday. And if Samajwadi Party retains power, he will be the chief minister — again. “But Mulayam Singh Yadav understands that a strong and loyal organisation is the key to win elections,” says an SP leader, “and it is here that Shivpal Yadav plays such a key role. Shivpal has been working in the organisation with Netaji for decades, and he has a strong following among party workers who come from Yadav and Muslim communities.”
The two communities bringing in the masses, and the muscle, for SP, Mulayam needs Shivpal to manage the organisation and retain his support among these two communities, another party leader says.
Besides, his connect with the general people and party workers is seen as stronger that Akhilesh. While the chief minister rarely holds what in political circles is called ‘janta darbar’, Shivpal holds such public meetings regularly in Lucknow. “He also interacts with officers in the districts over telephone frequently to address grievances of visitors, and that has developed public faith,” a party insider says.
And while Akhilesh remains stuck in the state capital with governance and administrative issues, Shivpal is a frequent visitor to SP strongholds such as Etawah and Mainpuri districts, making him a go-to man and very powerful among the average grassroots worker, the party leader says.
Shivpal, a four-term MLA from Jaswantnagar constituency in Etawah, is also seen as a key negotiations man for the party. He played a significant role advocating merger of the Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the SP, later called off by the party’s national parliamentary board, ostensibly under pressure from Akhilesh. Shivpal had also mediated an understanding with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to get the party’s MLAs to support SP candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections in June this year, and sources say he played a major role in the return of senior leader Amar Singh to the party.
Shivpal was also said to be in touch with another senior leader and former Union minister Beni Prasad Verma, who rejoined the party a few weeks ago.
“On the other hand,” an SP leader explains, “Akhilesh has a huge following among the youth and is seen as the administrative face of the Samajwadi Party government.”
While the present round of infighting has obviously created confusion among party workers, most party workers expect things to settle down soon. Calling Shivpal and Akhilesh the “two arms of Netaji”, a party leader says, “Mulayam wants Akhilesh to focus on the Vidhan Sabha election campaign with a clean image and let party affairs be handled by Shivpal, who is more experienced with organisational activities and enjoys strong support of party cadres, workers and MLAs.”
How that will play out in the run-up to the elections, however, is anyone’s guess. And it is here that all of Mulayam’s political experience and deft maneuvering will come into play.