The division within the Samajwadi parivar has re-surfaced with founder-leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brother and once number two in the party, Shivpal Yadav, floating a Samajwadi Secular Morcha on Wednesday to rally leaders and workers who feel neglected by the current leadership. In Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, the discontent within the Karunanidhi family appears to be dissipating with M K Alagiri, the late DMK patriarch’s elder son, indicating his willingness to accept his younger brother M K Stalin’s leadership. Alagiri had challenged Stalin’s leadership of the DMK soon after Karunanidhi’s death on August 7. But earlier this week, in what appeared to be a smooth transition, the DMK formally appointed Stalin as party president and it had become clear that Alagiri had little backing for his leadership claims. It may not be very different in the SP, too, since the cadres seem to overwhelmingly back Akhilesh Yadav, who had risked alienating his father ahead of the UP assembly elections in 2016 by refusing to accommodate Shivpal’s demands.
In a sense, the developments in the SP and DMK are similar — they arise from structural infirmities within the two organisations. Both these parties emerged from vibrant grass roots movements and were committed to clear ideologies — Periyar E V Ramaswamy-inspired model of social justice in the case of the DMK and socialist ideals shaped by Ram Manohar Lohia for the SP. Their founder-leaders, Karunanidhi and Mulayam Singh, charismatic organisers, also had the managerial skills to attract both cadres and leaders. However, both parties have long lost their movement character. The centralisation of power in these parties, a characteristic they share with other regional parties like the Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal, Nationalist Congress Party, National Conference, Akali Dal, has turned these parties into extensions of the persona of their respective leaders. The dilution of ideology, which reinforces dependence on the leader’s charisma, has turned them into family fiefs. Insecure patriarchs have preferred to groom their children as successors rather than allow leaders to emerge from the grass roots and compete for leadership positions. Succession battles in these parties are now mostly family disputes concerning perks and positions; political issues are relegated to the background.
In the absence of ideology in inner-party disputes, cadres generally stay with the party chief rather than the challenger. Alagiri and Shivpal Yadav have done long stints as party organisers, but their challenge is unlikely to attract cadres for this reason.