Amid dwindling hope of a truce with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is likely to announce his campaign on 15 January. It is BSP chief Mayawati's birthday that day, always a big event for the party's cadre. "Cycle or no cycle, he will announce his campaign on the 15th of this month," says an aide of the chief minister, a reference to the uncertainty over whether the Election Commission would freeze the party's election symbol.
The EC is set to decide on the symbol - both Akhilesh and Mulayam factions have laid claim to it - on 13 January.
Akhilesh, who was anointed the Samajwadi Party president in place of his father by a contentious national convention on 1 January, is also expected to make changes to the party's list of candidates. "Some of the names on the last list were there just because the chief minister did not want to annoy Netaji, but now those close to Netaji may not be there in the new list," a legislator who is in the Akhilesh camp said. "Since it is becoming increasingly clear that Mulayam, his brother Shivpal Yadav and Amar Singh are preparing to contest the polls separately, there will be some candidates who might chose to remain with that faction. They too will be removed from our new list."
Mulayam and Shivpal again flew to Delhi Wednesday and held a series of meetings, including with Sunil Singh, who leads the Lok Dal. Mulayam is reportedly considering using Lok Dal's symbol - farmer ploughing field - for contesting the election if the EC freezes the SP's bicycle symbol or gives it to the Akhilesh faction. He is also reaching out to smaller outfits in the state for possible alliances.
The Mulayam camp is said to be scouting for candidates, including from other parties. Earlier, it was rumoured that the SP patriarch had offered to make Azam Khan, for long the party's Muslim face, the chief ministerial candidate. That Khan seems to have given up on mediating between the two warring sides, has only strengthened the rumours. Indeed, he made a cryptic statement Thursday that "he would take a decision that would be in the best interest of Rampur", his constituency in Western UP.
In a recent meeting, Akhilesh is learnt to have asked his father to withdraw his petition to the EC challenging the legality of the 1 January convention and give him a free hand as party president until the election is over at least. The chief minister is wary of Mulayam's aides, particularly Shivpal and Amar Singh, whom he fears would make things difficult for him during the course of the campaign. Mulayam, though, isn't ready to cede any space. He wants to be restored as party president and is insisting on the involvement of Amar Singh and Shivpal in the party's affairs.
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Meanwhile, a top leader in the RLD, the western UP based party which is keen for an alliance with the Akhilesh faction, says they have been signalled to wait for the EC's decision on the poll symbol. Akhilesh is reportedly inclined to let the RLD contest around 25 seats in western UP as part of a broader that would include the Congress as well. The RLD leader, however, insisted his party would not "accept such a small number of seats". A section of Akhilesh supporters fear that an alliance with the RLD may drive away its Muslim voters who have become increasingly uncomfortable with the RLD, which is seen as a mostly Jat outfit, in the wake of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
Moreover, with the BSP fielding a lot of Muslim candidates in western UP and Mayawati aggressively wooing the community, there is likelihood of a heavy voter polarisation, which would eventually benefit the BJP.
Feeling the sting
Mulayam, pushed into a corner after the 1 January convention, is visibly rattled. Addressing a small section of workers at the party's headquarters Wednesday, he tried to put his son in the dock. "I started the Samajwadi Party when Akhilesh was merely two," he said, before going on his now familiar rant about how Ram Gopal Yadav was the one trying to break the party. Mulayam, flanked by Shivpal and Amar Singh, said he had tried to warn Akhilesh about the "conspiracy" but in vain. He resolved not to allow the party to be split "at any cost".
The Akhilesh faction couldn't help but see a "new conspiracy" in the way Mulayam again hit out at his son. "Netaji speaks his mind only when he is alone. Rest of the time he is just a microphone for others," an MP from the Akhilesh camp told Catch, clearly referring to Shivpal and Amar Singh. A legislator close to the chief minister said, "Netaji wants to show that he tried everything to save the party from splitting but he was thwarted by Akhilesh's ambition and Ram Gopal's conspiracy."