The year 2016 began on a high note for Uttar Pradesh with both ruling as well as opposition parties becoming more active by making promises, raising issues and increasing their public contact programmes. With assembly elections scheduled early next year, 2016 saw Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi covering about 3,500km across the state to raise issues of farmers, and BJP national president Amit Shah holding public meetings highlighting the alleged failures of Akhilesh Yadav and former BSP governments while UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav set year-end deadlines for the completion of his dream projects.
The year, however, was dominated by a bitter political fight within the ruling Samajwadi Party, between the old guard represented by Mulayam Singh’s brother Shivpal up against the young CM trying to establish himself within the party as it goes to polls. Following the family feud, deadlines for projects have not been achieved but they have been inaugurated. Reason – “Baad mein ribbon katwane kaun ayega” in the words of the chief minister himself. At the end of the year, the SP seems in disarray: the party has released a list of 325 candidates for 403 assembly seats in the state leaving little for alliance talks and also refusing tickets to some of those close to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, including ministers like Arvind Singh Gope, Ram Govind Chaudhary etc.It’s anybody’s guess what will happen next.
The BJP, meanwhile, is trying to assess the “good and bad” effects of demonetisation as the party looks to return to power in the state. The BSP, which is hoping to capitalise on the Muslim-Dalit vote share spent most of 2016 targeting the BJP, SP as well as the Congress. The Congress, which has declared Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate has left its workers more confused by not clarifying its stand on alliances till the last moment. Moreover, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who was seen at the forefront for most the year within Congress is suddenly out of picture.
While party hoppers switching parties before elections in not new, 2016 saw many unexpected switch-overs especially for the Congress and the BSP. At first, the Congress Working Committee member and former Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma joined Samajwadi Party in May this year. Beni was one of the founding members of the Samajwadi Party but had left it following differences. The move was seen as an attempt by him to make a place for his son Rakesh Verma to contest and win the election. Rakesh Verma has been given ticket by SP in its latest list, replacing sitting MLA and Minister Arvind Singh Gope.
Thereafter, three Congress and one SP Muslim MLAs left their parties to join Bahujan Samaj Party. This was followed by BSP leader in the assembly Swami Prasad Maurya leaving the party to join Bhartiya Janta Party as did another senior leader Brijesh Pathak. Then came another shock for Congress as its former state president and sitting MLA, Rita Bahuguna Joshi also joined BJP.
The SP family fight came to limelight in June after Shivpal Singh Yadav announced the merger of Quami Ekta Dal – the party of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari – with Samajwadi Party. Akhilesh publicly made it evident that he was not in favour of the merger and also sacked cabinet minister Balram Yadav, who was known to have played a significant role in the merger.
While the merger was first called off and then undertaken again after few months,it led to a churning in the party. This was followed by Akhilesh Yadav being replaced by his uncle Shivpal Yadav as state president in September and Akhilesh in turn sacking ministries close to uncle Shivpal. Then, Shivpal expelled close aides of Akhilesh from the party. This continued till October and deadlines for infrastructure projects including Lucknow-Agra Expressway, Dail-100, Lucknow Metro Train etc were shifted further.
As deadlines for completion of many projects could not be achieved till November-December, Akhilesh started to inaugurate projects even before their completion. At a time, when everyone thought that things were back to normal at least within SP, Akhilesh decided to give his own list of 403 candidates to Mulayam Singh Yadav but the party instead released list of 325 candidates. After late night developments on Thursday, the number of seats on which candidates have been declared by Samajwadi Party has increased to 393, whereas, while Akhilesh has also released his own list of 235 candidates including even names of some of the sitting MLAs. While all are closely watching developments within the ruling party, Congress is keeping a special watch at the movements and looking for tie-ups with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who and Rahul Gandhi have mutually praised each other on different ocassions in the recent past.
The Congress, which was waiting probably for talks on an alliance or split within the Samajwadi Party, has again started its activities though there is little of Prashant Kishor to be seen this time. BJP leaders are going door-to-door, asking people to be part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Lucknow next week and BSP is busy telling Muslims how its former government was able to safeguard their interests.
However, the biggest focus now is the next episode in the feud within the ruling Samajwadi Party, which even affected functioning of the government for past six months: how and when will it end?
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