As the Samajwadi Party prepares for its takeover by Akhilesh Yadav, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav has again created confusion.
Barely hours after meeting the Election Commission to stake his claim to the party's poll symbol, Mulayam said the SP will not split and that Akhilesh will be the chief minister if they return to power. He also claimed the party will campaign as one.
It is not known what prompted this statement. Mulayam has so far insisted that the party's MLAs alone will decide the chief minister, widening the rift. The father and son are expected to meet again Tuesday but a truce is unlikely since the ball is now in the EC's court - both factions have laid claim to the party's election symbol - and several sticking points remain between them. That's unless Mulayam agrees to all demands made by his son, who enjoys overwhelming support within the party.
"Since everything else has failed, this statement may be another trick by those who continue to mislead Netaji," said a legislator close to the chief minister, adding that Mulayam may also be seeking to give an impression that he offered his son the next chief ministership, but the latter refused to relent.
Earlier in the day, in a fresh bid to assert his control over the party, Mulayam wrote to the Rajya Sabha Chairperson to remove Ram Gopal Yadav, who has emerged as Akhilesh's top confidant, as SP's leader in the Upper House.
On the other hand, Akhilesh, his aides say, does not want to take a chance by letting go of his new position as the party president- which is being contested by the other faction - at least until the elections are over.
The chief minister's uncle Shivpal Yadav, meanwhile, blamed Ram Gopal for engineering the split in the party, pointing out that the Rajya Sabha MP had moved the EC exploring the possibility of getting the motorcycle as symbol, something Catch had reported in December.
Who's party is it?
Both sides again went to the Election Commission Monday, each claiming to represent the "real Samajwadi party".
In its meeting with the EC, the Akhilesh faction requested the poll body to expedite the decision, and said it was ready to even parade the SP delegates and legislators to prove majority support. The six-member delegation led by Ram Gopal also stated that the EC could randomly select 10-20 delegates from among 4,400 delegates who have signed affidavits in support of the chief minister and call them on a short notice.
A few hours earlier, Mulayam took a delegation to the EC to stake his claim to the party. He submitted a four-page dossier citing a "technical issue" in the party's constitution which mandates that the national convention can only be called by the party president, that is Mulayam Singh Yadav. Therefore, the national convention called by Ram Gopal Yadav on 1 January which chose Akhilesh as the president was illegal. Mulayam, however, did not submit any affidavits of MLAs or MLCs in his support, according to a source who saw the representation submitted to the EC.
Talking to the media after the meeting, Mulayam claimed that all was well within the party, and that only "one person was responsible for the rift", an apparent reference to Ram Gopal. He had earlier claimed that Ram Gopal stood expelled from the SP, so there was no way the convention called by him had legal sanction.
This assertion is being challenged by the other faction. As a party MP told Catch, "Ram Gopal Yadav was expelled after he had called the convention. Mulayam failed to perform his duties as the president of the party since he did not call the convention despite a demand from more than 40 percent of the party delegates. The parliamentary board of the party also did not meet even when the list of probable candidates had to be finalised." This, the MP added, "left no other option but for Ram Gopal Yadav, the general secretary, and Kiranmoye Nanda, the vice president, to call for an emergency national convention."
Who gets the symbol?
The Akhilesh faction seems to have reconciled to the EC freezing the party's symbol - bicycle - and allotting new ones to both factions. "Both precedents exist it comes to such claims. There has been only one time when the EC has decided in favour of the party's chief, and that was when Chandrababu Naidu staked his claim as leader of the party's MLAs. In all other such instances, it has frozen the symbol," the party MP s.
The MP pointed out that the EC has to first decide which of the two factions constitutes the real Samajwadi party. "If they think that they need more time to examine the claims, they will go for freezing the symbol and decide the matter once the elections are over," he said. In any case, Akhilesh has reportedly told his probable candidates to be ready to contest on a new symbol.
In a fresh twist to the symbol controversy, Shivpal, the only top SP leader who is unequivocally on Mulayam's side is heard in a video claiming that Ram Gopal engineered the split. And that he had asked the EC for a new symbol a month ago. This is not the first time Shivpal had made this claim. In November, he had claimed that Akhilesh wanted to float a new party.
Insiders claim, Akhilesh had indeed been toying with the idea of forming a new party, but decided otherwise after realising that he enjoyed the support of an overwhelming number of MLAs, minister and delegates. According to an aide of the chief minister, his thinking then changed to: "Why should I leave? Those who have a problem should leave the party."
Indeed, senior EC officials had confirmed to Catch that a section in the SP was exploring the possibility of the motorcycle as the poll symbol for a new outfit, meaning that the Akhilesh-led faction knew the party may eventually split. There is little doubt that the feud in the SP is not new; it only worsened after Amar Singh was re-inducted against Akhilesh's wishes.
In search of allies
Meanwhile, with Rahul Gandhi likely to return from a vacation abroad on Tuesday, it is possible that the SP's alliance with the Congress may finally take place. Sources close to Ram Gopal claim that while Akhilesh is keen on an alliance with the Congress, he may not go for an alliance with the RLD amid fears that it "may entail giving the Muslim votebank as a gift to the BSP, especially after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots broke the social fabric". The source pointed out that Ajit Singh's party uses its Jat identity to contest polls, which too may hurt the SP's prospects among Muslims.
A top RLD functionary confirmed that there have been no talks about an alliance with the Akhilesh camp. In the undivided SP, Shivpal had been exploring the possibility of an alliance with Ajit Singh's party. The Congress has an understanding with the RLD, with the poll strategist Prashant Kishor reportedly holding talks with the latter on behalf of the Grand Old Party.
If the SP and the Congress finally decide to contest the election together, without the RLD, it would leave the latter in a difficult situation. "Some sections of the Jats that had voted for the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election seemed to be coming back to the RLD. But they would only vote if they see the RLD in a position to win," a party leader had explained earlier.