UP election 2017: In one swift move, Akhilesh Yadav took charge of SP and put Congress in its place

Akhilesh Yadav's first list of 191 candidates for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections is a move loaded with political significance — for the ruling Samajwadi Party, and its prospective junior alliance partner Congress.

The list contains Akhilesh's supposedly estranged uncle Shivpal, who will contest from his traditional family seat Jaswantnagar, as well as several others considered close to the Shivpal-Mulayam faction. It indicates there might not be a split in the SP as feared. Akhilesh is clearly the leader and chief ministerial candidate of a split faction of the party, but the fact that his uncle — who fought and lost a long-drawn public battle against him — has reconciled and agreed to serve dutifully under him suggests it might be a unified front.

Secondly, the announcement of candidates sends a strong message to the Congress, asking the latter to be as happy as a lightweight pillion rider at the mercy of the cycle rider. "Don't have any expectations, just be happy and thankful you're an invitee to the alliance," is the message he's sent to Congress.

 UP election 2017: In one swift move, Akhilesh Yadav took charge of SP and put Congress in its place

Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters file image

He has completely disregarded Congress' demands of non-negotiable seats. In its first list, SP has fielded candidates in at least 10 seats where Congress has sitting MLAs. Considering the Congress only has 26 MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, denial of seats to their leaders is a huge setback to the party. The SP's first list has already denied 10 Congress MLAs — some of them strong local names — the right to defend their seats if the alliance is to go ahead. It would be interesting to see how Congress negotiates from here.

Consider this: In Sayana in Bulandshahar, SP fielded Rajkumar Lodhi though Congress had its sitting MLA Dilnawaz Khan. In Khurja, SP fielded Nandkishore Balmiki though Congress' Bansi Singh is the sitting MLA. In the reserved Hapur seat, SP fielded Tejpal, overlooking Congress' sitting MLA Gajraj Singh. In Mathura, SP fielded Ashok Agrawal, which could deny Congress' Pradeep Mathur. SP has also fielded Indrasen, Azam Khan's son Abdullah Azam, Beena Bharadwaj, Manish Chauhan and Om Prakash Mishra from Gangoh, Swar, Bilaspur, Shamli and Kidwai Nagar; these five constituencies were all won by Congress MLAs Pradeep Kumar, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan, Sanjay Kapoor, Pankaj Malik and Ajay Kumar in 2012.

By doing this, Akhilesh has proven himself to be as proficient as his wrestler father Mulayam Singh Yadav in the dhobhipat daon, a colloquially used wrestling term in the Hindi heartland, which refers to tricking a rival and flooring him in a dangal. Mulayam is renowned for making last-minute changes to strategy, outwitting supposed alliance partners, all to keep his political supremacy intact. Whether Akhilesh's first list in defiance of Congress' demands came following advice from his father or not remains to be seen, but it has certainly rattled Rahul Gandhi and Co. It effectively means that if Congress is to align with SP, it has to do so on the latter's terms; it cannot dictate terms to Akhilesh-Mulayam.

After the initial shock therapy came a softener from SP's national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda, who said SP has already offered 54 seats to Congress and could yield a further 25 seats if the latter came to the negotiating table. Congress hasn't reacted to Nanda's offer yet.

SP's list and its vice-president's statement, even if taken on face value, mean that SP is willing to concede only 'C' or 'D' category seats. Ahead of every election, parties prepare lists weighing their strengths in a given constituency and winnability marked on an 'A-B-C-D' marking system ('D' seats are which the party has never won before; 'C' seats are those which it might have won years ago, but have since witnessed heavy defeats).

SP has already rejected Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD) and it's upto the Congress if it wants to accommodate RLD from its own quota of seats. Akhilesh-Mulayam are wary of Ajit Singh since Muslims in western UP may react adversely to SP if Ajit Singh and his Jat support base becomes an alliance partner.

Congress on its part has been spending far too much time and energy deliberating whether or not Rahul Gandhi should travel to Lucknow to have a joint media briefing with Akhilesh, or if Akhilesh should travel to Delhi to hold a briefing with the Congress vice-president. If the choice of venue is Lucknow, and Rahul Gandhi travels there to have a photo-op with Akhilesh, it would mean he's conceding to the SP leader's superiority. Little do Congress leaders realise that Mulayam-Akhilesh are far superior politicians than those part of Rahul's coterie.

It's interesting that in one single stroke, Akhilesh Yadav has established his total command. He has arrived on the scene in UP's landscape as a seasoned politician in his own right. The inclusion of Shivpal's name, meanwhile, may mean there never was a split in the SP, except a fight for supremacy inside the Yadav clan.

In its 42-page order, while giving the Samajwadi Party name and cycle symbol to Akhilesh, the Election Commission had dwelt at length as to why it was convinced there had been a split in the party. Students and practitioners of politics always have some interesting lessons to learn.

Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 17:00:52 IST