ON MAY 5 last year, Shivpal Yadav, Samajwadi Party leader and younger brother of party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, announced the formation of a new front, saying that he felt sidelined. Mulayam then managed to talk his brother out of the decision, promising him a respectable position in the party.
After waiting for more than a year, Shivpal launched the Samajwadi Secular Front on August 29, which he said would accommodate the disgruntled elements of the Samajwadi Party. The decision came after Mulayam himself conceded that he was no longer in control of the party. Speaking at the birthday celebration of veteran Samajwadi Party leader Bhagwati Singh, Mulayam said the young turks no longer respected him. “They will respect me probably when I am no more,”he said. “[Ram Manohar] Lohiaji had once said that in our country, people were respected more after their death.”
With Mulayam’s son Akhilesh firmly in control of the party, Shivpal has chosen to move out. “For a long time, I have not been given any work, not invited to party meetings or consulted on important decisions,” said Shivpal. “I had no alternative, but to float a new party.”
Shivpal, one of the founding members of the Samajwadi Party, used to be Mulayam’s closest aide. But, with Akhilesh’s rise, he was sidelined. When the party won the assembly elections in 2012, Shivpal and Akhilesh were in contention for the chief minister’s post. Mulayam chose his son, and also made him state president of the party. Shivpal was given a cabinet berth.
Akhilesh, however, did not like Shivpal’s interference in the administration. With Mulayam’s support, Shivpal got his favourite bureaucrat Deepak Singhal appointed as chief secretary, despite Akhilesh’s opposition. The rift widened after Shivpal tried to bring back expelled senior leader Amar Singh into the party. Akhilesh, with the support of Mulayam’s cousin Ramgopal Yadav, tried to scuttle the move.
Matters came to a head after Shivpal facilitated the merger of the Quami Ekta Dal, a party run by the notorious don Mukhtar Ansari, with the Samajwadi Party. Akhilesh retaliated by sacking Shivpal and three other ministers close to him. “Sacking Shivpal was a direct challenge to Mulayam’s authority,” said a party leader. Mulayam retaliated by expelling Ramgopal from the party, although the decision was subsequently rescinded.
The latest rebellion should be seen in the backdrop of such turmoil. Shivpal has announced his new front at a time when Akhilesh’s plans for a grand alliance against the BJP is yet to take shape. Shivpal may not win too many seats in the Lok Sabha elections, but he could certainly spoil the Samajwadi Party’s chances.
Shivpal said the front would emerge as strong political alternative and would give space to smaller political parties. He is backed by a capable network of supporters and allies, whom he cultivated by ‘influencing’ major policy decisions, ‘distributing’ tickets and even ‘appointing’ ministers when he was Mulayam’s right hand man. He has a large number of supporters in districts like Mainpuri, Etawah, Etah, Farrukhabad and Kannuaj. Shivpal does not want to lose his assembly seat and that is why he has not resigned from the party.
The formation of the new front will be a big relief for the BJP, which has been worried about the grand alliance of the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and other small parties. BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan said Shivpal’s move had shown that the people rejected Akhilesh’s leadership and that his acceptability was declining even within the family. Shivpal, of late, has been soft on the BJP. Recently, he met Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The BJP may covertly support Shivpal and his fledgling front to weaken the Samajwadi Party and the grand alliance.
Akhilesh has played down the new challenge. “Come what may, the cycle will march forward,” he said. “As polls approach, many such things will come up. Right now the priority is to focus on poll preparations. Party members should not let their attention divert.”