Is the unfolding scenario in the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh the beginning of an end of the last ‘socialist’ experiment in Indian politics? Many would have strong reservations to accept that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party represents the socialist tradition that Ram Manohar Lohia had heralded in India’s national politics.
After Lohia’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 57, the ideological strain of the socialist movement virtually died out. What his erstwhile followers like Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav succeeded in doing was to cash in on the caste-based vote bank and creating a formidable alliance with the Muslim vote bank.
In India’s first-past-the-post system, such alliances were good enough to come up trumps in periodic elections and get to the seat of power. That is how Lalu Yadav won three successive elections and remained in power for 15 years. He lost his hold over power only when Nitish Kumar was able to take a large portion of the Muslim vote bank away from Lalu’s party.
Mulayam Singh Yadav did not have the luck of his Bihar counterpart in holding a complete sway over the Muslim electorate in Uttar Pradesh, as Kanshi Ram-Mayawati combine had tapped into a sizeable Dalit vote bank in Uttar Pradesh and had succeeded in attracting the Muslim support for power-sharing in the state. The BJP has also been a formidable political force in Uttar Pradesh, with its large upper caste core vote base.
That explains why, unlike in Bihar, it has been a sort of musical chairs for all three major political dispensations in UP in the last quarter century, after the Mandal polarisation obliterated the prospect of an upper caste chief minister in either of these states.
It goes to the credit of Mulayam Singh that after the disintegration of the Janata Party, in which the socialist Party had merged in the run-up to the 1977 elections, he decided to revive the name of the socialist party (though, with his strong anti-English orientation, he named it Samajwadi, instead of Socialist) whereas Lalu Yadav christened his party as Rashtriya Janata Dal, a take-off from the Janata Dal, which was a splintered group of the Janata Party.
Both Mulayam and Lalu ended up turning Lohia’s socialist politics on its head by embracing dynastic politics. Ram Manohar Lohia was a bitter critic of the dynastic politics that the ruling Congress party had ushered in (though Jawaharlal Nehru could not be directly accused of paving the way for dynastic succession as he had not designated his daughter, Indira Gandhi, as his successor. Indira became a minister and later prime minister, only after Nehru’s death).
But Lalu Yadav had no qualms in designating his illiterate, domesticated wife — far removed from the political hurly-burly — as his successor as chief minister when he was arrested in the fodder scam in 1996. That transfer of power amounted to a tight slap on Lohia’s face.
Lalu reasserted the triumph of dynastic politics when two decades later he chose his 26-year old son, who had failed in his Class X examination, to lead the party in the assembly and become the deputy chief minister, passing over the political veterans like Abdul Bari Siddiqui whose credibility and competence were never in doubt. (Lalu’s other son, a Class XII graduate, is also a senior minister in the Bihar cabinet).
Mulayam was no different. In 2012, when Samajwadi party was voted to power in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh had grandiose plans for a national role for himself; he chose his son, a political novice, to become the chief minister, ignoring the claims of many top party leaders for the most coveted job. Lohia was again made to turn in his grave, figuratively speaking.
It was not just that these leaders, Lalu and Mulayam, veered away from the socialist path on account of only dynastic politics. Their obsession with caste-centric politics was the antithesis of the socialist ideology that Lohia had espoused. He had, no doubt, advocated reservation for the backward castes, as an extension of the policy of positive affirmation rolled out for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution, but, for him, the core policies of a socialist government were meant to emancipate the weakest sections of the society, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.
Both Lalu (Rabri) and Mulayam (Akhilesh) governments failed to enact radical, trend-setting policies that could uplift the conditions of the poorest of the poor. These governments showed neither the vision nor the resoluteness to improve the state of agriculture, the mainstay for the majority of the poor population in these states. Like most other state governments, which have no love lost for socialism as an ideology or as a political practice, Lalu and Mulayam dispensation too made the celebration of distributing freebies as a hallmark of the pro-poor policy. They clearly winked at the fact that freebies as a policy are antithetical to socialism as a principle.
Clearly, Samajwadi Party remains socialist only in name; socialism as an ideology was dead long ago with the death of socialist stalwarts like Madhu Limaye, Madhu Dandavate, Kishen Patnaik and the retirement of leaders like Rabi Ray.
The impending split in the Samajwadi Party is not on account of any ideological differences between Mulayam and his son or his cousins. Like any other party, it is a power play between the two warring factions within the party. What makes it precarious is that faction-fighting has exposed the chinks within the first family, with Mulayam’s brother and son leading the rival factions. Mulayam Singh, the patriarch and supposedly the supreme leader, ought to have taken on the responsibility to arbitrate between the factions and defuse the crisis; but, unfortunately, it appears that he has cast his lot with a faction leader himself (Shivpal Yadav, his brother) and turned against his ambitious son, Akhilesh, the current chief minister.
There are speculations about the role of Mulayam’s current wife (Akhilesh’s stepmother) in bringing about the rift in father-son relationship – that she and Shivpal (and, of course, aided and abetted by Mulayamwadi Amar Singh) want Mulayam back in the chief minister’s chair which Akhilesh is clearly unwilling to concede.
Even if Akhilesh is allowed to stay on as chief minister until the elections early next year, his future role in the party will be uncertain given the internal dynamics of his family and the party. It is, therefore, possible that Akhilesh has taken a call to strike out on his own for his long-term political survival. He reckons that he has earned some goodwill of the electorate by institutionalising the freebie culture and he has succeeded in creating an organisational cadre loyal to him.
There are, therefore, possibilities that if he splits the party, he would be able to corner a major chunk of the party’s support base, especially amongst the youth. He possibly calculates that if he succeeds in striking an alliance with the Congress under the youthful leadership of Rahul Gandhi to contest the 2017 elections, they together could present the next-generation alternative and that could potentially alter the political dynamics of the next election in Uttar Pradesh (This arrangement could work as Rahul is not a chief ministerial candidate). Some see good words that Akhilesh and Rahul recently said about each other as a groundwork for the eventual alliance.
There is also a view that this is Akhilesh’s Indira moment – the reference is to 1969 when Indira Gandhi revolted against the party veterans and split the party and eventually emerged victorious.
Will Akhilesh be able to do an Indira to Mulayam?
Is it that, by his actions, Akhilesh has hammered the last nail in the coffin of his father’s in-name-only socialist outfit?
At this juncture, it is difficult to foretell the future.
Published Date: Oct 24, 2016 13:45 PM | Updated Date: Oct 24, 2016 13:45 PM