The symbol did not matter much in the Mulayam-Akhilesh face-off in practical terms to begin with. With the party so badly divided and his own mass appeal on the decline, Mulayam would not have worked any electoral magic even if he had the symbol. For Akhilesh, who have decided to chart his own political course away from the shadow of the family, it would have been a small advantage. But then, his attitude so far suggests, he is beyond caring.
The ultimate loser in the in-house power struggle is the Samajwadi Party. Because neither Mulayam nor Akhilesh will be able to ensure it a repeat mandate, with or without the symbol. The pro-development, youth-friendly modern face of the chief minister combined with the social engineering skills of his father could have helped the party beat anti-incumbency but that is not the case anymore. Even a last minute forget-and-forgive deal, which still remains a possibility, cannot undo the damage done so far. Given the intensity of the power struggle any such deal can only be a truce with a short life - the potential voters of the party won't be unaware of it.
Whether or not Akhilesh teams up with the Congress, the Uttar Pradesh election would be about the BJP and the BSP. As the voting pattern in the 2014 general election suggest, a chunk of Yadav and non-Yadav OBC votes and a big segment of Dalit votes have shifted to the BJP. Even if this shift is credited to the Modi wave and the fact it was a national election, it's unlikely that there would a complete reversal of the trend in 2017. The BSP, on the other hand, stands to gain in case of a possible shift of Muslim votes from the Samajwadi Party to it. As the equations stand now BJP is ahead in the race, even though it is yet to make its strategy public.
Akhilesh won't mind a defeat if his performance is respectable. It's obvious from his moves that he is thinking long-term, planning to grow as a leader on his own strength, away from rival power centres in the family and the baggage of the network of patronage and loyalties that the family brings. It is possible that he believes that the original supporters of the Samajwadi Party would veer towards him sooner or later since the family has no other leader to offer at this point. Mulayam is aging and is not likely to be politically active for long; no one else has assumed a stature as leader yet.
Shivpal Yadav may be the nuts and bolts man of the party with considerable sway over the party's organisation but he certainly is not a chief minister prospect. The other long-time associates of Mulayam are not seen more than that, associates. Moreover, by promoting Akhilesh, the Samajwadi Party chief has already made his preference clear. If he thinks it was a mistake then he has to live with it. His options are limited.
But it won't be easy for Akhilesh. In caste-ridden society where social inequalities are still sharp, the talk of development may not have huge traction or electoral value. Father Mulayam had understanding of the complex social equations in the state and had managed to build a post-Mandal social coalition of castes and communities that served him reliably. His politics remained old school but it was effective too. Akhilesh will need to build a similar coalition all by himself.
But this is the best time he can take a risk. He cannot wait for the Samajwadi Party to make him bigger in the state's politics.
Updated Date: Jan 13, 2017 18:20 PM