With Akhilesh Yadav firmly in the saddle as the new head of the Samajwadi Party's majority faction (If a truce is not reached in time for the polls), the party's alliance with the Congress and the RLD may be finalised as early as this weekend
Sources in the Congress and the SP claim that an understanding has already been reached. The Congress top brass, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, are said to be keen that the party allies with the SP, to dent BJP's chances. The Congress leadership is said to have been in regular touch with Akhilesh all through the crisis in the SP. Sources claim that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been speaking to Akhilesh directly. However, this hasn't been confirmed by either side.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who is handling the campaign in UP has also been pushing for an alliance.
Ghulam Nabi Azad the Congress in-charge for UP is likely to fly to Lucknow in the coming days to meet the SP leadership.
Congress, which already has an understanding with the RLD, has been waiting for the dust to settle within the SP. Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav, too, was waiting to take the party firmly under his control before deciding on the alliance.
Insiders claim that Congress has demanded around 107 seats in the state. However, SP insiders say that the party would be comfortable with parting with 100 seats for the Congress, RLD and the Krishna Patel faction of the Apna Dal combine.
Congress, according to some leaders, would be more than happy with the arrangement. RLD, too, which saw a rout in the Lok Sabha elections, is looking forward to the alliance to maintain its relevance in the state. RLD's Jat vote bank may help the SP in Western UP, where it has lagged behind Mayawati's BSP and the BJP.
Congress, too, was initially in a bind on the alliance question. While some top Congress leaders were of the view that they should go solo to build the cadre base, the other faction believed that giving BJP a shot at power in UP, would be more detrimental to Congress' interests for the 2019 polls.
"Like in Bihar, it is much easier to build up the cadre and keep them enthused if you are in power, even as a junior partner," as a Congress insider put it.
While there is an understanding between the RLD and the Congress, top sources in the western UP outfit say neither party has been reaching out to them directly, lately. And that if SP is thinking that they would do an alliance with the Congress and RLD would join in, that not how you talk alliances before elections. However, this top leader was still sanguine and believed that no conversation may also be because of the infighting going on within the SP and that they may now reach out.
An alliance with the Congress may also help SP consolidate the Muslim vote bank. The rift in the SP, it was feared could create confusion in the minds of the Muslim voters and may have resulted in a section moving away to the BSP, which is trying hard to woo the community.
However, this could also lead to a counter polarisation in favour of the BJP, but that would depend on how BJP's campaign shapes up. They would need to take up issues like the so-called Kairana exodus and Ram Mandir. But that would be easier said than done as a section of their support base is reeling under the effects of demonetisation.
Yadav family drama
Meanwhile, as the Yadav family drama continues to unfold, two things are clear. First, Akhilesh Yadav is now the undisputed boss of the Samajwadi Party. Second, if his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, the ousted patriarch of the party, does no accede full control to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, there will be no truce.
As an aide put it, "No matter how many meeting take place between both sides, the Chief Minister will not reconsider his decision."
Another MP in the Rajya Sabha echoed similar views. "Whatever had to happen, has happened during the 1 January emergency convention. Now everything else is inconsequential," the MP says indicating that the big decisions on the future of the party have already been taken.
A day after the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the schedule of the UP assembly polls, Akhilesh has told his supporters that they should prepare for the elections. And that they should not worry about whether his faction would be able to wrest the 'cycle' as the symbol for the polls.
With over 90% support from MLAs and MLCs in the party, Akhilesh was confident that his faction would be able to convince the ECI that they constitute the real Samajwadi Party.
Akhilesh Yadav will also continue as the National President of the party, at least till the polls are over, contrary to reports in some sections, which indicated that he was willing to compromise.
This comes at a time when opinion polls show that a divided SP may shore up BJP's chances in the forthcoming elections. However, a defiant Akhilesh and his supporters are confident that getting rid of faces like Amar Singh and Shivpal Yadav will further bolster his clean image. Even opinion polls show him to be the most popular choice for the post of the chief minister.
In a meeting held at 5 Kalidas Marg on 5 January, around 275 MLAs and MLCs came out in support of the Chief Minister, one of the MLCs who was present there told Catch.
"The undivided party has 229 MLA and 66 MLCs, almost 275 came out in support of the Chief Minister and signed affidavits," the MLC claims. Even Sibghatullah, a Qaumi Ekta Dal MLA visited Akhilesh Yadav and reportedly pledged support. Qaumi Ekta Dal, led by jailed mafia don Mukhtar Ansari, merged with the SP earlier this year against the wishes of the Chief Minister.
Autumn of the patriarch
The development is important in view of the ECI's notice to both factions - the one led by Akhilesh Yadav, and the other where Mulayam, Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh have been pushed to the corner - to come with evidence of support they enjoy from party MLAs, MPs and MLCs by 9 January.
This leaves father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav, who have been contesting the 1 January, Emergency National Convention, where an overwhelming majority of the party workers elected him as the new party president, in a precarious position.
Mulayam's position in the party can be imagined by the fact that even trusted aides like Gayatri Prajapati whose sacking widened the rift, have given affidavits in support of Akhilesh.
Mulayam and Shivpal were reportedly in Delhi before they flew back to Lucknow.
At Mulayam Singh's residence, they were also joined in by Amar Singh and former MP Jaya Prada, and a lawyer to chart further course of action. There is a big possibility that the matter may end up in court. It is, however, not clear on how many affidavits this group has been able to muster up in its support.
Mulayam had earlier challenged the legality of the 1 January meeting and had moved the Election Commission to stake claims on the party. Subsequently, Ramgopal Yadav and Naresh Agarwal, too, had met top officials of the ECI, submitting a dossier in support of their claim.
Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, on 4 January, had said that a decision would be taken after taking into account the representation and the documents submitted from both sides and the precedents which exist on such cases.
After the 1 January meeting, senior leaders like Azam Khan have mediated in the family feud. Meanwhile, in the meeting today, CM Yadav, according to an insider account, is wary of talking truce with his father for he believes that he is still being misled. "The CM says that while he is meeting his father Mulayam Singh almost everyday, the latter has been going back on his word," the insider says.
"He mentioned how till nine in the morning today, Mulayam Singh had told him that he is not going to Delhi. However, as he left for the meeting, Mulayam flanked by Shivpal Yadav was already on his way to the capital," the insider says adding how the CM was miffed.
"Chief Minister does not want to take the risk to come to some sort of an understanding with Mulayam Singh, knowing well that there is a big possibility of him going back on his word like in the past. He does not want this to happen at this crucial juncture with the polls just over a month away," the insider explains.
"At least till the elections are over he may not reconsider his decision," the insider claims while adding that "CM said Netaji would be happy if we win the elections and that would automatically sort out differences."
CM Akhilesh Yadav, who on 1 January, designated Naresh Uttam as the state president of the Samajwadi Party, ousting Shivpal Yadav, has also started reconstituting the district units. On Thursday, as many as seven district heads of the party were replaced, in an indication that CM Yadav wants his loyalists to be firmly in the saddle before the polls.