Akhilesh Yadav looks to tighten his grip over Samajwadi Party following UP election setback

For Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav – who till a month ago was ruling Uttar Pradesh with a massive majority, albeit fractured by a split in the Yadav clan – 11 March brought about a change that required him to come up with a response befitting his status.

On the day of the Assembly election result, his reaction was rather poised, wherein he said that he would review the results. But he also quipped that perhaps the people had ignored vikas (development) and had got carried away by false promises.

Such a reaction can be expected from a young leader, who had tried hard to return to power on the strength of the work he had initiated in the state, and his association with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. But the people rebuffed his attempt.

File image of Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters

File image of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters

Tiding over what was probably the first setback of his political career, Akhilesh kept quiet for a few days, withholding his reaction to the ascension of his successor, Yogi Adityanath, to the chief minister’s position. Though the electoral storm in UP seems to have settled, the infighting in SP, over who should have control over it, is far from over.

On 28 March, Akhilesh held a meeting of his newly-elected members of Assembly, numbering 47, and was unanimously elected as the leader of the SP Legislative Party, in both the Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) and Legislative Council (Vidhan parishad). Akhilesh himself is a member of the Council, where senior leader Ahmed Hasan leads the party.

Incidentally, senior leaders Shivpal Yadav and Mohammad Azam Khan did not attend the meeting. Both won from their respective seats in Jaswantnagar (Etawah) and Rampur. Both Shivpal and Azam Khan were expected to be contenders for the SP Legislative Assembly leader's post, but by choosing Akhilesh, the legislators have made it clear whose leadership they prefer to follow.

Another instance of him tightening his control over the party was the manner in which he named the party's senior most MLA, Ram Govind Chaudhary, as Leader of Opposition. Akhilesh nominated the eight-time MLA on Monday, with the outgoing Speaker, Mata Prasad Pandey, notifying it. But UP governor Ram Naik has reportedly put a question mark over the decision, saying it was for the new Speaker to notify the Leader of Opposition.

The governor’s message to the Assembly secretariat on 28 March said: "The question of democratic and constitutional propriety in the Speaker of 16th Legislative Assembly giving recognition to Ram Govind Chaudhary as Leader of Opposition of the 17th Legislative Assembly on the last working day… should be considered." The usual procedure of selecting the Leader of the Opposition includes the majority Opposition party coming up with a name, which they propose to the Speaker, who then officially "recognises" the individual for the post.

A Raj Bhawan spokesperson said that on Monday, the last working day of the previous Legislative Assembly, the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat had issued a notification in which Chaudhary was recognised as Leader of Opposition of the new Assembly by Pandey.

The governor’s message said that as per tradition, only the Speaker of the newly elected Legislative Assembly can give recognition to the new Leader of Opposition, and that there has been no such instance in any state, especially when the Speaker has not even been elected to the new Assembly. It was pointed out that giving recognition to the Leader of Opposition is the Speaker’s discretion and not a Constitutional obligation.

Another indicator of the party's power struggle came from the announcement that former SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav had cancelled a dinner meeting with the 47 newly-elected legislators.

According to party sources, ahead of the meeting with Mulayam on Wednesday, a message had been spread among the MLAs to attend only those party meetings convened by Akhilesh.

Mulayam was SP president till January, when a special convention of the party passed a resolution naming Akhilesh as the new president, positioning Mulayam as 'patron'.

Whether or not he is the leader of SP in either House, Akhilesh is giving a clear message to his legislators and party leaders that he calls the shots. Mulayam, Shivpal and Azam Khan remain where they were before the election results came in – the margins of SP.

With the confidence that all the 47 legislators owe their allegiance to him, Akhilesh is likely to initiate a new brand of confrontation with the BJP government. He gave a sample of this recently by taunting chief minister Yogi over his initial orders related to cleanliness, punctuality, anti-eve-teasing and the ban on illegal slaughter houses, and recalled the previous government’s "development work."

He has, in fact, gone to the extent of terming BJP’s victory as a new form of "political corruption" and there seems to be no acknowledgement that the internecine war within the SP could have damaged the party in the election.

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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2017 17:30:46 IST

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