The outcome of the family drama at the Samajwadi Party is not yet known but it has already started to bear consequences at the regional levels. In the run-up to Assembly elections early next year, some candidates are looking for greener pastures while others, more strongly affiliated to the party, are suffering as a result of divided loyalties between various members of the Yadav clan.
Even a centralised family-led party like the Samajwadi Party is dependent on its troops on the ground, and the current uncertainty is pushing some of its local faces to adapt their strategy and calculations for the elections to the current scenario.
In Western Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the cadre is strongly connected to dominant political families in the region, such as the Swaroops in Muzaffarnagar, the Manzoors in Meerut, the Chaudharys and Masoods in Saharanpur, and the Hasans and Chauhans in Shamli. Members of these families contest the elections, such as Gaurav Swaroop in Muzaffarnagar, Nahid Hasan in Kairana or Shahid Manzoor in Kithore. Their confidantes lead village or district-level party branches. Jaiveer Singh, considered Shahid Manzoor’s right-hand man, is the party pointsperson in Meerut. And Mazahir Hasan Mukhiya, associated with both the Masoods and Chaudharys, takes on that role in Saharanpur.
These families control the party structure at this level, oversee its funding by forging ties with businesses, and nurture party candidates and cadre within their networks. Other Samajwadi Party candidates are also dependent on them for campaigning and mobilisation in their areas of influence.
The regional political families and the Yadav family in Lucknow have a mutual dependency. The Yadavs need them to conduct party business. And the families need the Yadavs to expand their clout and business and to secure protection against their opponents.
But with the Yadav family divided – with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav pitted against his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav – this arrangement is being shaken. In particular, party candidates are getting increasingly anxious that their campaigns will suffer as a result of the feud.
In a party like the Samajwadi Party, there are three types of candidates. The first are loyalists who tend to draw their strength from their long association with the party. The second are candidates whose political strength comes from their own dominant positions, irrespective of party affiliation. They may or may not be loyalists. And the third type are the turncoats, political mercenaries recruited from other parties to divide their vote base.
Each type conducts their politics differently, but they all need to maintain ties with the party structure in their respective regions.
In the present situation, all of them are in trouble, for a variety of reasons. The loyalists and turncoats are almost entirely dependent on the party structure for campaigning, and face the difficult task of having to pick a side – between Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav, their cousin Ram Gopal Yadav, and Akhilesh Yadav. Much of their future, including the certainty of their ticket, now depends on the choice they make.
Some who are loyal to the chief minister have already paid the price for their affiliation. State party chief Shivpal Yadav, who was dropped from Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet on October 23, cancelled the tickets of Atul Pradhan from Sardhana, Vimla Rakesh from Rampur Maniharan and Kiranpal Kashyap from Thanabhavan.
The independently strong candidates are less affected by the turmoil in Lucknow. They tend to belong to the powerful regional political families, from which they draw their strength. They are already influential in their areas through their caste and patronage networks. Most of them have ties with village and block district committee heads and zilla parishad members. However, they still need the party’s support when they go beyond these networks.
These candidates may be tempted to simply wait for the final outcome of the family feud. But by doing so, they risk losing their grip over the party structure, because the rank and file tend to be quicker to switch allegiance. The other risk is that whoever wins in Lucknow might eventually punish them for their indecision.
There is already evidence that local structures have started to crumble, pushing their bosses and candidates to pick a side.
But of the three categories of candidates, the turncoats are the most anxious. They have left their former parties with the hope of joining a stronger one that gives them a better chance of winning at the hustings. Also, choosing sides may not help them as their move to the Samajwadi Party was in all probability organised within a particular faction. These candidates were already facing hostility from party members in their respective areas and now cannot count on much support from the top.
Threat of defections
In the midst of the Samajwadi Party’s troubles, the Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly trying to convince its members to desert the party and join its ranks, even informally. The weeks that preceded the latest family outburst – when Mulayam Singh Yadav expelled Ram Gopal Yadav from the party promptly after Akhilesh Yadav dropped Shivpal Yadav as minister – had already seen the beginning of a migration of Samajwadi Party leaders to the BJP.
If the Yadav family crisis does not subside quickly, this movement may gain momentum and the Samajwadi Party may face more defections and betrayals. The logic of affiliation that ties candidates and cadre to their party in Uttar Pradesh is based on mutual interests rather than ideology. Affiliation is, therefore, fluid or malleable.
The chief minister is probably counting on a victory against his uncle and father, and on his ability to garner the support of voters through his development record. But in Western Uttar Pradesh, where everything is mediated through the regional power brokers and party structures, his strategy may fail to win him any seats.
The writer is a Research Fellow at Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University. These are his personal views.