After five years of a bitter feud, it was “ghar wapsi” for Shivpal Singh Yadav on Thursday. The veteran leader returned to the Samajwadi Party (SP) fold after helping the Opposition party retain the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat by a massive 2.88 lakh votes, with his constituency Jaswantnagar contributing over 1.06 lakh votes to SP candidate Dimple Yadav’s margin.
This emphatic performance established the veteran leader’s importance to the party in a bastion that it has held since 1996. The 67-year-old leader is among the founder members of the SP that was established in 1992 by his brother and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose death in October necessitated the by-election. That year, Shivpal entered active politics by becoming the chairperson of the Etawah Cooperative Bank.
In 1996, Mulayam moved to the Centre as the Defence Minister and asked Shivpal to contest from his Jaswantnagar Assembly seat in Mainpuri. According to party insiders, Shivpal was his brother’s most trusted man in the organisation. In 2009, he was appointed the SP’s UP president for the first time. But, after a few months, his nephew and current SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, with whom he would eventually fall out, replaced him.
When the SP won a majority in the 2012 Assembly elections, a section of senior party leaders wanted Mulayam to take over as the CM again. But the SP founder decided to pick Akhilesh for the CM’s post, sensing it to be an ideal opportunity to establish his son in politics. Sources said that while Shivpal was then reluctant to accept Akhilesh as the CM, Ramgopal and other family members stood by Mulayam’s decision.
Shivpal became the most powerful minister in the Akhilesh-led Cabinet after his nephew and the most important party leader after his elder brother. He held crucial portfolios such as the Public Works Department, Irrigation, and Cooperatives and Revenue.
But in 2014, there was speculation about growing differences between Shivpal and Ramgopal after Mulayam fielded Ramgopal’s son Akshay from the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat instead of his younger brother’s son Aditya. Shivpal at the time believed Akhilesh had a hand in Mulayam’s decision, according to party insiders.
In 2016, Shivpal played a vital role in the merger of the Quami Ekta Dal of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari with the SP. But it was called off following opposition from Akhilesh. At the time, he also mediated an understanding with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to strengthen the SP in western UP, where the BJP made gains in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots. Then RLD chief Ajit Singh had several rounds of meetings with Shivpal before holding talks with Mulayam.
The fissures deepened in 2016-’17 but despite those differences, Shivpal contested the 2017 Assembly election as SP nominee and won from Jaswantnagar. The break with the party he founded occurred in 2018 as he went on to float the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia).
The following year, his party contested from 30 constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections but lost all. He dealt a blow to the SP in Firozabad by garnering 91,869 votes. The margin separating the BJP’s Chandra Sen Jadon and runner-up Akshay Yadav of the SP, Ramgopal’s son, was only 28,781 votes.
Shivpal and Akhilesh began the reconciliation process ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections, meeting again last December. To consolidate the traditional Yadav vote bank in the face of the BJP challenge, the two took the pragmatic decision to join forces once again. Akhilesh gave ticket to only Shivpal, who contested as an SP nominee, and rejected the other names that his uncle proposed. Among them was former MP Raghuraj Singh Shakya who went on to join the BJP and contest the Lok Sabha bypoll against Dimple.
But the tension between the two remained. Shivpal was said to be unhappy at being kept out of matters of the party and the SP-led Opposition alliance. Their differences came to the fore when Shivpal cross-voted in favour of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s presidential election nominee Droupadi Murmu. He started keeping his distance from the SP again and decided to strengthen his outfit. But, Akhilesh and Shivpal came together in Mulayam’s last days and with the SP founder’s seat at stake in the bypoll, it became a prestige battle for the party, and especially the two of them.
Shivpal’s close aide Deepak Mishra who was the chief spokesperson of the PSP(L) said, “Now after the merger, socialists will unite and fight against the BJP under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav and the guidance of Shivpal Yadav.”