Earlier this week, a convoy comprising of several SUVs raced through the heart of Jaswantnagar constituency in Etawah district with red-and-green flags of the Samajwadi Party fluttering on its bonnets. About five kilometres in, the flurry of cars turned away from the smooth concrete road into a kachcha one, wounding its way past green fields and patches of small uncemented brick houses. The cars finally stopped at a small clearing where around 100-odd people, mostly men, sat waiting. While everyone expected Shivpal Singh Yadav, the influential ‘mantriji’ and sitting MLA from Jaswantnagar, it was his son Aditya Yadav, popularly known as ‘Ankur bhaiya’, and former MP Raghuraj Singh Shakya who stepped out.
As buffaloes brayed nearby, Shakya struck a note of caution in his speech at the small gathering. “Bhaiyya-ji ka karz chukana hai (We have to pay the debt of Bhaiyya-ji,” he told the villagers in no uncertain terms.
“You all know my name was present in the first list. The second list did not have my name. You all know who ensured that my ticket was cut. It is to lower the reputation of Shivpal Singh Yadav. This is a conspiracy. Whatever I am today is because of Shivpal Singh Yadav. Netaji has blessings for me. As a community, we will not let ourselves be sold. We will not be traitors,” Shakya said as Aditya Yadav looked on.
Shakya’s complaints of injustice underline the deep divisions within Uttar Pradesh’s first family after a public feud saw Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav regaining control of the party and the government. Shakya, a former MP from Etawah, is the sitting MLA from Etawah Sadar and wanted to be renominated again. However, Akhilesh favoured Kuldeep Gupta ‘Santu’. While it is widely believed that Santu got the nod for his proximity to Prof Ram Gopal Yadav, the party’s general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP, Shakya was a confidante of Shivpal and party chief Mulayam.
Shakya resigned as a primary member of the party in January this year and is campaigning openly for Shivpal Yadav in Jaswantnagar. Shakya and his supporters are exhorting voters to give Shivpal a victory margin of at least 1 lakh votes so that his strength is visible in Lucknow, the epicentre of the state’s politics. While there is no doubt among locals that Shivpal will retain Jaswantnagar, a constituency that also covers Saifai, the hometown of the Yadavs, it’s only his victory margin that is awaited.
However, less than 500 metres away from where Shakya talked of conspiracy, a different tune was being fed to the voters in a neighbouring village. In Wazirpur village, which falls under Etawah Sadar constituency after delimitation, a group of locals waited patiently under a huge Banyan tree for Prof Ram Gopal Yadav. Here, in stark contrast, there was no talk of Shivpal. There was only praise for Akhilesh and the work of the state government.
“The work that Akhilesh has done, nobody has done. Mayawati ji ne bhi aisa kaam nahi kiya hai jitna bhaiyya ji ne kiya hai. Ambulance unhone chalwayi. 100 number chalwaye, kaafi kaam karvaye hai (Mayawati has not done as much work as Akhilesh has done. He launched the ambulance service and the 100 service of police),” said Anurag Yadav, an SP supporter.
Twenty minutes later, Ram Gopal, in a short speech at the gathering, spoke of supporters being threatened without taking any names. “I have heard that some people are threatening you and preventing you from attending rallies. Let me tell you that no one will be spared after March 11,” he said in remarks widely aimed at the Shivpal camp. He added that there was no need for the chief minister’s jan-sabha in Jaswantnagar as the local candidate himself is active.
If Ram Gopal’s remarks were not enough, Akhilesh himself did not fail to spare the opponents within his party and his family. “It is my fault that I did not visit Etawah frequently. I did not come as I trusted others. But the people I trusted created a rift between me and Netaji,” the chief minister said to thunderous applause from an audience in Etawah town.
These indirect swipes at each other have marked the SP’s electoral campaign in Etawah, a district that has been its fortress for nearly two decades. By continually providing the basic ‘bijli’-‘paani’ to the locals, through systematic consolidation of Yadav-Muslim votes and reminding people of the advantages of the tutelage of the Yadav ‘parivar’, the SP has managed to win successive elections here. It was only in 2014 that the cycle was brought to a grinding halt when the BJP swept four of the five assembly segments and went on to win the Lok Sabha seat by more than 2 lakh votes.
Though Shivpal’s influence transcends his own constituency in the district, this time his loss of face to the Akhilesh camp has been a setback. The mantriji who once commanded 13 departments in the state government and has the ear to Mulayam has limited himself to campaigning in his own constituency. “Jo helicopter aur highway se utarte nahi the, voh ab pagdandi pe hai (The person who never got down from highways and helicopters is traversing narrow village paths now,” a local journalist summed up the situation.
The ‘Lok Dal’ rebel
Looking to upset the SP’s calculations in Etawah Sadar, that covers Etawah town and surrounding villages, is a rebel SP leader fighting on a Lok Dal ticket. What’s interesting is Ankush Rajput, the Lok Dal candidate, has pictures of both Mulayam and Shivpal on his campaign material.
Sitting in the middle of a dark garage, that doubled up as a press conference hall, Rajput vowed to defeat Kuldeep Gupta, the SP candidate from Etawah Sadar. Rajput claims he had the blessings of both ‘Netaji’ Mulayam and Shivpal for his candidature from the seat, but the move was blocked by the chief minister on directions from ‘professor saab.’
“Chacha ki baat hai,” Rajput claims Akhilesh had told him referring to Ram Gopal. Eventually, Kuldeep, the nagar parishad chairman who is close to Ram Gopal, was chosen as the party candidate by the Akhilesh camp.
“What is the meaning of a ticket after this age? When you are over 50 years old, can you hold someone’s leg? Can you climb stairs and help people? That’s when disease afflicts people. People lose their hopes. They should get a ticket by 40-42. Or you can make them Governor like Kalyan Singh. Samajwadi Party still has time. Take Kuldeep Gupta down, nominate Ashish Rajput and the party will win. Today, SP is in fourth position. Let me give you that in writing,” Rajput told reporters at the press conference. He claims to have the support of the 50,000-strong Lodhi Rajput community, a significant vote bank for a victory.
‘Mulayam ke log’
Aiding Rajput in his campaigning efforts is a splinter group that calls itself ‘Mulayam ke log’ (Mulayam’s people). The small group, consisting of former members of the party who still have allegiance to Mulayam and Shivpal, are quietly shoring support for independent or opposition candidates like Rajput. They are going from village to village and spreading the word of how Netaji and Shivpal were sidelined within the party.
“Jis par nahi hai Mulayam ka haath, hum nahi hai unke saath (Those who don’t have support of Mulayam, we are not with them),” said KM Gupta, a founder member of SP. Gupta added that he found it shocking that official candidates of the party do not need ‘ashirwaad’ from Netaji anymore.
“Kisaano ka maseeha hai. Unka kad chhota nahi ho sakta (He is the messiah of farmers. His reputation cannot come down),” Gupta said.