The exit of sister-in-law Aparna Yadav from the Samajwadi Party fold Wednesday may actually fit in well with party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s plans. Party insiders said the SP didn’t make any special effort to hold back the 32-year-old, as Akhilesh tries to reduce the family’s footprint in the party which he is leading into elections almost single handedly for the first time.
Patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is ailing and virtually a non-presence in this election, bar the few times he dropped in recently to address party workers. More striking is the absence of others, such as Mulayam’s cousin Ram Gopal Yadav, who had sided with Akhilesh during the family feud earlier.
Neither was present when Akhilesh held a series of rallies to announce alliances with smaller parties, or to welcome tall leaders from other parties. Ram Gopal is rarely seen even at the SP state headquarters. After a long gap, the SP general secretary was last seen with Akhilesh at an event in Gonda on January 7 to unveil the statue of former minister Pandit Singh.
An SP leader said Ram Gopal remains vital to the party campaign and was busy with the first two phases of the state elections, covering western UP, on February 10 and February 14.
Even Akhilesh’s wife Dimple, who had been a star presence constantly by his side in the 2017 campaign, has not been seen. The former MP from Kannauj, who was once seen to have a political career, has withdrawn from the public eye.
Having made his way back to the SP after his recurrent rebellions, Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Singh Yadav appears to have also accepted Akhilesh’s leadership. The two recently announced that the SP and Shivpal’s Pragatisheel Samaj Party would contest together, with the latter fielding candidates on the SP’s bicycle symbol. However, bar that, Shivpal has remained behind the scenes.
Sources said it is a conscious decision by Akhilesh to keep family members distant to avoid charges of dynastic politics levelled at the SP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while Mulayam was elected MP from Mainpuri and Azamgarh, Ramgopal’s son won from Firozabad, Dharmendra from Badaun and Dimple from Kannauj. Mulayam had later vacated the Mainpuri seat, and the grandson of his elder brother, the late Ratan Singh Yadav, Tej Pratap Singh Yadav, had been elected MP from there.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections swept by the BJP, the only two winners from the SP were Mulayam and Akhilesh.
One of the BJP’s favourite taunts at the SP is that it is a “parivarwadi (family-focused) party”.
But now, even the larger SP family is missing, either deliberately or inadvertently, reinforcing the sense of Akhilesh’s emergence from the huge shadow of father Mulayam. While prominent Muslim leader Azam Khan is in jail, former MP Naresh Agrawal joined the BJP in 2018, and big names like Beni Prasad Verma and Parasnath Yadav and veterans such as Bhagwati Singh have passed away.
Verma was a founder-member of the SP, while Parasnath was a seven-term MLA from the Yadav-dominated seat of Malhani in Jaunpur district. They were part of Mulayam’s trusted inner circle.
In those appearing with Akhilesh too, there is a message for the voters. At his press conferences and party events, the SP chief has been flanked by non-Yadav OBC leaders who have either tied up with the SP or joined the party, like Ram Achal Rajbhar, Om Prakash Rajbhar, Keshav Dev Maurya and Sanjay Chauhan. Akhilesh has been trying hard to shed the impression of the SP being a party only of Yadavs and Muslims.
However, even when other leaders are present, it is mostly only Akhilesh who speaks. Earlier this month, when former BJP minister Dara Singh Chauhan joined the SP, a mediaperson tried to ask Chauhan a question. Akhilesh intervened: “Only I will answer on his behalf.”