UP drama: Theatre of the absurd

Reynold D'saUpdated: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 11:45 AM IST
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Things could come to a head again if Shivpal ignores Akhilesh’s men in ticket distribution for the impending assembly elections and packs in his own men, some of them with dubious credentials.

More often than not, Providence plays a big role in setting the fortunes of parties and individuals in elections. A couple of weeks ago, before the crisis in the Samajwadi Party hit media headlines, the party was sitting pretty. It had a star in Akhilesh Yadav who was seen as untainted with corruption, young, ebullient and reasonably dynamic. He was head of government as chief minister and head of the party and had a sway over things.

Akhilesh’s electoral plank was the same as the one which the redoubtable Narendra Modi had used in his famous Lok Sabha victory — development. The BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati were fearful of his control over the youth. The Muslim vote which is a sizable chunk in U.P. assembly elections was hedging between the SP and the BSP but with its record of voting tactically en bloc to block the BJP, it was inclined towards SP.

The BJP was groping for an effective electoral plank in which the decisiveness and firm handling of Pakistan by the Modi government at the Centre as reflected by the ‘surgical strikes’ on Pakistani terror launch pads was being seen as the lynchpin. It was vying with the Congress for a neat share of the Brahmin vote which is a significant 14 per cent of the electorate.

Just then came the crisis in the Samajwadi Party which made the party look ridiculous. The bloated ego of Mulayam Singh Yadav who wanted his son Akhilesh to follow his dictates by surrendering his own mind, the easily-aroused and somewhat immature behaviour of Akhilesh, the rekindled ambitions of Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Yadav who had expected to be anointed chief minister by Mulayam in 2012 but was robbed of it and the crown given to Akhilesh and the penchant for mischief of the scheming Amar Singh who was readmitted to the party and was working overtime to upstage Akhilesh in a surreptitious manner all combined to drive the party up the gum tree.

Akhilesh, from whom father Mulayam wrested the party presidentship and entrusted to Shivpal, wanted to capitalise on his squeaky clean image and would not allow uncle Shivpal to induct tainted individuals like Mukhtar Ansari into the party. The result was that while Shivpal threw out some of Akhilesh’s die-hard supporters, the chief minister used his powers to eject Shivpal and some of his trusted men from key Cabinet positions.

Meanwhile, Amar Singh was in New Delhi playing his own divisive and destructive games on the sly which reached Akhilesh’s ears. Young Akhilesh was touched to the quick when his aides brought to him tales of how Amar Singh was boasting that Akhilesh would be replaced soon.

The whole drama turned into a theatre of the absurd. Mulayam could have exercised a sobering influence but he took sides in the meeting that he called to bring about peace. He came down heavily on Akhilesh while praising Shivpal and Amar Singh in a characteristic show of poor tact and negotiating skill.

Meanwhile, Ram Gopal Yadav, a cousin of Mulayam and one who had been efficiently representing the party at the Centre, sided with Akhilesh to keep Shivpal at bay and paid the price with his expulsion.

As things stand, Akhilesh, who at one stage was toying with the idea of launching a new party, has been assured that he may continue as chief minister with Mulayam’s blessings but with lips sealed, Shivpal will be party chief, but Akhilesh has made it clear that he would not welcome him back in his council of ministers unless he agrees to reinstate Ram Gopal Yadav in New Delhi, Amar Singh who Akhilesh wanted to be jettisoned will live on to indulge in his skulduggery, wheeling-dealing for Mulayam to win him new moneybags and pedlars of influence.

Things could come to a head again if Shivpal ignores Akhilesh’s men in ticket distribution for the impending assembly elections and packs in his own men, some of them with dubious credentials. Mulayam is believed to have assured Akhilesh that he would oversee the ticket distribution but whether he would actually do so with due diligence is yet to be seen.

Surely, after the washing of dirty linen in public, the Samajwadi Party cannot but lose ground with the electorate. The Muslims in particular who have reposed great trust in the party will perhaps gravitate en masse towards Mayawati’s BSP and that could cost the party dearly.

The Congress, though only a bit player in the U.P. electoral games will be watched by pollsters keenly for some reasons. One, it will be an acid test for Prashant Kishor who is given a lot of credit for Narendra Modi’s impressive 2014 Lok Sabha victory as a strategist and for the fine win notched up by the Lalu Yadav-Nitish Kumar alliance in the Bihar assembly polls. Prashant has in this election been commissioned by the Congress, especially for U.P.

It is on Prashant Kishor’s insistence that Priyanka Gandhi has decided to campaign extensively for the Congress in U.P. How much of an impact Priyanka’s campaigning will make remains to be seen. She may draw crowds but whether she would bring seats into the Congress kitty is a big question mark.

The Congress was looking at wresting control of the Brahmin vote which is a substantial 14 per cent of the electorate but the defection of Rita Bahuguna Joshi from the party to the BJP would predictably spoil the party. The other Brahmin leader in the Congress — Sheila Dikshit — is deemed an outsider and a spent force and would not cut much ice.

Finally, with the SP weakened, it is BJP and BSP that will hold the trumps. But which party gets to the magic figure only time would tell.

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