Every morning for over a fortnight now, 70-year-old Vishwanath Sengar has been going door to door in the Etawah and Auraiya districts of Uttar Pradesh, talking to traditional supporters of the Samajwadi Party about the public humiliation of his leader Shivpal Yadav at the hands of his nephew and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. He starts with a friendly introduction to make sure the people know he’s one of them – not an outsider out to mislead them on the Yadav family feud but someone who shares the outrage and pain felt by Shivpal Yadav and his older brother, party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav.

“Once the right chord is struck, the talks proceed to consider which party people should support in order to ensure the defeat of the SP [Samajwadi Party] candidate,” Sengar, Shivpal Yadav’s right-hand man, told Scroll.in on Wednesday as he completed his meetings for the day at Hanumantpura village in Etawah. Part of Bharthana Assembly seat, Hanumantpura is located deep in the ravines of Chambal.

“This is the only way we can avenge our leader’s humiliation,” he explained. “In course of these talks, we resolve, depending on the mood of the people and the winnability of rival candidates, whether to support Bharatiya Janata Party or Bahujan Samaj Party.”

Vishwanath Sengar (right) speaks with Samajwadi Party supporters at Hanumantpura village in Etawah.

Sengar, an Auraiya-based Samajwadi Party leader and vice-president of the district cooperative bank that is headed by Shivpal Yadav, has been loyal to the Yadav brothers since 1977. With Akhilesh Yadav now leading the party in the ongoing state elections after a bitter fallout with father Mulayam and uncle Shivpal, Sengar is campaigning to ensure the Samajwadi Party’s defeat in the three Assembly seats of Bharthana, Auraiya town, and Dibiyapur (in Auraiya district).

“I am not alone,” he said. “In almost every village in Etawah, Mainpuri and Auraiya districts, you can find people who have been with Shivpal for decades. They credit him with constructing roads, drains, irrigation facilities, [and with ensuring] water supply and power connectivity. They sympathise with Shivpal and are determined to punish Akhilesh for the sin he has committed. Here, it is not Akhilesh but Shivpal who is seen as the man of development,” he asserted.

Mulayam Ke Log

Sengar has a point. The Yadav family feud – which, after simmering for a while, erupted in October with the chief minister sacking Shivpal Yadav from his cabinet – seemed to have been settled after Akhilesh Yadav’s ascension as party president in place of his 77-year-old father on January 1, and with the Election Commission a fortnight later giving his faction the party symbol, the bicycle. However, the rivalry remains very much alive in this Yadav bastion that will go to polls on February 19 in round three of the seven-phase elections. The wavering loyalty of party workers in the region threatens to hurt the Samajwadi Party’s electoral prospects. In case this happens, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP may be the direct beneficiaries.

As it is, hundreds of party leaders and workers in this region have quit to form an informal body called Mulayam Ke Log (Mulayam’s people), with offices in Etawah and Auraiya.

The Mulayam Ke Log office in Etawah.

“Our sole objective is to redeem the pride of Shivpal Yadav,” said Sunil Yadav, who was the Samajwadi Party’s district unit president in Etawah till he resigned around a month ago along with 500-odd supporters. “We know that the only way we can do this is by ensuring the defeat of SP candidates wherever possible.”

According to Sengar, the idea to float Mulayam Ke Log took shape on February 1. In Shivpal Yadav’s Jaswantnagar Assembly constituency in Etawah, members of this front are working day and night for his victory. But in the other constituencies of the region, their main objective is to try and divert the party’s traditional voters to its rivals, Sengar added.

Raghuraj Shakya, a sitting Samajwadi Party MLA who was denied a ticket by Akhilesh Yadav, said, “Party workers have seen through the design to make Shivpal Yadav look like a villain. They are upset and are working against the party’s official candidates.”

A prominent member of Mulayam Ke Log, Shakya wants Shivpal Yadav to retain Jaswantnagar with a record victory margin and is working towards this. “In other seats, Shakya voters are leaving the SP and drifting towards the BSP and BJP,” he added.

Yadav revolt?

Loyalties may be shifting even among Yadav voters, the party’s core constituency. Indicating as much, Sahdev Singh Yadav, the sarpanch of Sahson village in Etawah, said, “Mayawati is the only politician who is sympathetic to Shivpal Yadav.” He added, “Her statements are being appreciated by members of my community.”

While Etawah and Auraiya districts have three Assembly seats each, Mainpuri has four. In the 2012 Assembly election, the Samajwadi Party had won all 10 seats. A revolt in this Yadav bastion just ahead of polling does not bode well for Akhilesh Yadav.

So far, Shivpal Yadav has refrained from making any statement that could hurt the party’s prospects in the neighbouring seats. Perhaps he is aware that an anti-Akhilesh Yadav statement might boomerang and make the going tough for him instead.

His loyalists, however, believe that once polling is over in Jaswantnagar, Shivpal Yadav will be free and ready to take his revenge. “Let voting take place on February 19,” said Raghuraj Shakya. “Things will change after that.”

The board on the Etawah office.

Images by Dhirendra K Jha.