Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his second wife Sadhna Gupta usually do not make a public appearance together; let alone make a political statement. The Yadav family homeland of Saifai witnessed a fresh chapter in the first family's history on Sunday when the two landed there together, within hours of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav casting his vote.
Mulayam, prompted by Sadhna, showed a mark of indelible ink on his finger and proclaimed that the SP was returning to power with a majority on its own.
Though Mulayam's words exuded confidence, his body language suggested that he lacked the vitality, vigour, enthusiasm and force that is usually associated with him during election time in Uttar Pradesh.
This shift in his persona also reflects the changing tides for Akhilesh in the current polls. A number of factors could foil a re-election bid for the chief minister.
End of the Mulayam era
In stark contrast to previous elections, Mulayam was not seen campaigning for his party this time around except in the case of his brother Shivpal Yadav and daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav.
Another interesting aspect, and a bitter pill, for Mulayam, was the fact that most of the party candidates refrained from even inviting Mulayam to campaign for them.
Though he has not hung up his political boots yet, it seems that he is past his time in the sun – as far as his party members are concerned.
People in Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj, Farrukhabad, where the third phase of polling is underway for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, fondly remember him and sympathise over the way he has been treated by son Akhilesh.
This has left Mulayam's core supporters in a predicament — who to vote for? Support for Mulayam, it seems, is detrimental for Akhilesh's bid and this will have a bearing on the poll outcome.
Deepak Singh, a long-time SP voter in his late-30s, pointed at the wide road behind him and lauded the party for the development it had done in the state. But he said that in this election, he was not inclined to vote for SP. He quickly added that his shift in allegiance was not a result of the family feud within SP, but rather a result of Akhilesh's alliance with Congress' Rahul Gandhi.
"Jab kaam bolta hai to ek nakam (Rahul) ke saath kyon haath mila liya. Mujhe aur mere kuch sathion ko ye pasand nahi (If your work speaks for you, then why did you shake hands with an incompetent person. Me and a few of friends of mine don't like this)."
Going deeper in Saifai, a bearded man in saffron says the area is a Samajwadi Party fortress and added that only the party can win. But, he also adds that many in the region were talking about giving a chance to the other party (BJP). They argue that we have had enough of SP's dominance and were curious as to what the other party can do differently. This points to the fact that winning might not be as easy for Akhilesh as it was in the last elections.
Akhilesh's alliance partner Congress, has no real presence in the third phase of polling. The only seat that Congress had won in 2012 was of Rita Bahuguna Joshi in Lucknow Cantt. But Joshi has now become a part of BJP.
Fragmentation of Yadav support
Ideally, Akhilesh should have been sitting comfortably ahead of the third phase of the polls. In 2012, SP had swept the polls, winning 54 seats in 12 districts spread across the Yadav bastion of Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj, Farrukhabad, Auraiya etc.
But each election presents a completely different dynamic. In 2012, Akhilesh, Mulayam and Shivpal were one force; in 2017, they might still be one party, technically, but are certainly not a united front. The schism within the Yadav clan has resulted in the emergence of multiple forces.
The fact that Akhilesh has extensively campaigned in areas, over the last five days, which are considered to be his family's stronghold is indicative of the fact that he is not complacent about the outcome. His wife, Dimple Yadav, after appearing to be a tentative campaigner and reluctant public speaker, is busy campaigning for the party as well.
Polling is underway in 69 constituencies in the third phase. A heavy voter turnout in this phase could cut both ways, depending on the voters’ mood – pro-incumbency favouring the incumbent or anti-incumbency favouring the challenger.
Updated Date: Feb 19, 2017 19:37 PM