As an unrelenting Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to acknowledge his son, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, as the Samajwadi Party's national president, it's clear the countdown towards an implosion of the party has begun.
"I continue to be the national president of the party and Akhilesh Yadav is the chief minister," Mulayam asserted at a press conference in New Delhi on 8 January.
At the brief press conference, Mulayam said that on 30 December 2016, Ramgopal Yadav was expelled from the party for six years as the delegates' convention called by him was unconstitutional and a fraud.
Reversing the convention's resolution on his brother, Mulayam said that Shivpal Singh Yadav remained the state president of the party. While Mulayam spoke to the media, he was flanked by Shivpal and Amar Singh.
Mulayam also refused to say anything about his possible meeting with the Election Commission of India on 9 January - the deadline for him to reply to Akhilesh Yadav's application seeking the party symbol.
Ram Gopal met the Election Commission officials on 7 January and handed over seven cartons containing 1.5 lakh pages of documents affirming the party delegates' support for Akhilesh.
On the sidelines
However, a Rajya Sabha MP of the party who was involved in drafting the documents submitted by Akhilesh side claims Mulayam Singh is being misled.
"Ram Gopal was sacked on 30 January along with CM Yadav because he had called the meeting of delegates when he was still the general secretary of the party," the MP says. "Netaji first issued a show cause notice that day and, without even waiting for a response, sacked both," the MP says, adding how Netaji reversed the decision the next day without even being asked.
However, after the National Executive was held on 1 January where Akhilesh Yadav was elected as the party chief, Ram Gopal and SP's vice president Kiranmoye Nanda were again fired by Mulayam Singh.
The MP also spoke of how Mulayam has not been performing his duties as party chief. "While it may be true that only the party president call for a national executive meet, why did he not call one when over 40% of the delegates demanded that it be called?" the MP asks. "The constitution of the party says that a national executive meeting should be held every two months. Netaji was last elected as the Chief of the party in October 2014. Why has he not called even a single meeting since?" the MP asks, adding how this time even the parliamentary board meeting which is held to authorise Mulayam to decide on party tickets did not take place.
"That may be customary, but it should have still been held," the MP says. "If you are caught in a situation where the party president is not heeding to anything which is there in the party constitution what do you do?" the MP asks, explaining that that was why Nanda and Ram Gopal had to step in.
"All the reasoning that is being put forth by the other faction is nothing but to confuse the ECI and delay matters," the MP says.
Before leaving for Delhi this morning, Mulayam and Shivpal had given a hint of their confrontationist mood after they locked their respective rooms in the Samajwadi Party office at Vikramaditya Marg in Lucknow. This makes it clear that the feud continues not just because of a tug of war over the party symbol but also over the control of party office.
Before heading to the capital, Mulayam again made his oft-repeated statement that there is no infighting in the family. "There is no dispute of any kind," he said.
On the other hand, party general secretary Ramgopal Yadav told journalists on 7 January that there is no truth in talks of reconciliation between the two factions. "They are meant to create confusion," Ram Gopal said.
Akhilesh has made it clear that Mulayam as national president of the party and Shivpal as state president were, under the present circumstances, are not acceptable. The CM even declared that he is ready to face the electorate on any symbol, in case his faction is denied the cycle as symbol.
Naresh Uttam Patel, who was appointed party's state unit chief in place of Shivpal, also tried to pull the wool over supporters' eyes by saying that there is no dispute in the party.
These denials notwithstanding, Mulayam's faction has time till Monday (9 January) to respond to an EC communiqué asking him to present his case before the poll panel.
A letter by K L Wilfred, principal secretary to the EC, said, "Having taken cognizance of the application (from Akhilesh group) and on satisfaction that there are two splinter groups in the Samajwadi Party, within the meaning of paragraph 15 of the Symbols Order, the Commission has directed that you may file your reply to the Commission latest by January 9, Monday."
Both the factions are now claiming to be the real Samajwadi Party and staking their respective claims over the 'cycle' symbol, suggesting that they were prepared to fight the elections as separate entities perhaps on different poll symbols.
Nameplates and recognition
Chaos had followed the delegates' convention, which also removed Shivpal Yadav from the post of state president. At the time, pro-Akhilesh group had taken control of the party office and removed Shivpal's nameplates.
But when Mulayam locked his and Shivpal's rooms, the nameplate outside his room read "raashtreey adhyaksh", national president, a position usurped by his Akhilesh.
Not only were the nameplates restored on Sunday, but this time Shivpal was also shown as PWD and irrigation minister even though he is no longer a part of Akhilesh's cabinet.
While Team Akhilesh is firm that it will face the electorate as the real Samajwadi Party on any symbol, Team Mulayam is humming the 'all is well' tune in keeping with Mulayam's wiliness.
The ever-growing Akhilesh faction
If the EC follows precedence of freezing the party symbol as was done in the case of Indira Gandhi in 1969 and 1977, then one of the two factions will be allotted a new symbol.
But considering how 90% of the party has thrown its weight behind Akhilesh, it will be difficult for Mulayam to go into the elections and declare his own candidates.
In fact, Ram Gopal is said to have submitted notarised affidavits of 212 MLAs, 15 MPs, and 56 MLCs beside 4,700 delegates of the party and 32 members of the national executive in favour of Akhilesh as the party chief.
Even several of Mulayam Singh's close aides, including Gayatri Prajapathi, have signed such an affidavit. However, there are still others like Azam Khan who are yet to take sides. "While affidavits came from 74 districts, Rampur - Azam Khan's stronghold - is the only district which did not send even one affidavit," a party functionary told Catch.
Former chief minister and senior politician Narayan Dutt Tiwari has also written a letter to Mulayam requesting him to hand over the control of the party to Akhilesh.
Praising the latter, the former CM wrote, "I am very sad about the happenings in the SP in the last few days. I have always considered you a younger brother and Akhilesh as my nephew. I would request you to hand over the control of the party to your son and bless him."
Of Mulayam's many symbolic battles
Going to the polls with a new symbol isn't likely to be a problem for Mulayam, who has contested on at least six different symbols, including the cycle, during his 50-year political career. Mulayam made his political debut as a Samyukta Socialist Party candidate from Jaswantnagar in 1967 with banyan tree as symbol.
In 1974, he contested on Bharatiya Kranti Dal ticket; the party's symbol was a farmer with a plough. In 1977, a farmer carrying plough in a circle became his symbol when Mulayam contested the polls on a Janata Party ticket.
In 1980, as a Lok Dal candidate, his symbol became one of a farmer ploughing his field. When he joined the Janata Dal in 1989, he fought using the symbol of a wheel with six spokes in green background.
The frequent changes in poll symbols finally stopped in October 1992 when the Samajwadi Party was formed.
With the vertical split in the SP a mere formality, the ball is now in EC's court to either freeze the party's symbol or allot it to either of the two factions.
With inputs from Sadiq Naqvi. Edited by Aleesha Matharu