The feud in the Samajwadi Party seems to have turned electoral arithmetic on its head in Uttar Pradesh.
A few days back, the competition seemed even – the SP was battling a damaging power struggle, the BSP had been hit by desertions and the Congress despite a month-long campaign to woo farmers was still struggling to be taken seriously. That should have made the BJP leaders happy but they weren’t.
Making a comeback in the country’s most populous state is big on the BJP’s agenda but for that, it needs help from the SP as well as Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party – to split the Muslim vote.
A divided Muslim vote translates to poll gains for the BJP while a consolidation will spell trouble, as minorities play a crucial role in at least 125 of the 403 constituencies in the state that goes to the polls in early 2017.
But with the “messiah of Muslims” Mulayam Singh Yadav choosing brother Shivpal Yadav and friend Amar Singh over his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav, the community is looking for alternatives.
They know the divide in the Yadav family is beyond repair. No amount of hugging will undo the bitterness of the ugly spat on Monday -- Shivpal called Akhilesh a liar as party cadres watched on.
The BSP has managed to hold on to its Jatav supporters -- a sizable section among Dalits who account for 21% of the state’s population. The SP’s hold over Yadavs and Muslims, however, is slipping.
As things stand, Muslims are likely to choose the BSP over the SP.
“Somehow I feel the family will unite ahead of polls,” says Maulana Arif, who runs a modern madarsa in Bahraich, highlighting the dilemma the community faces.
“In Devipatan division which has 18 seats, Muslims will prefer to go with Akhilesh, whether he with the SP or leads an independent party. However if the SP dumps him, then most of them will go with the BSP and some to the Congress.”
But, the same can’t be said of central UP. “The triple talaq issue is bringing the community together. As the Congress is weak and the SP is engaged in family battle, the BSP will be their next best option,” says Maulana Nasir Fakhiri of Allahabad.
Mayawati knows it and has been concentrating on 125-odd Muslim majority constituencies, with close aide Naseemuddin Siddiqui meeting community leaders. She has also promised a substantial chunk of tickets to Muslims.
Javed Mohd of Welfare Party of India, too, feels its advantage BSP. Akhilesh, he says, should break away but should move quickly as the election is not too far.
But, there is no such ambiguity for Khurshid Naqvi, another community leader in Allahabad. He is clear: Muslims are moving away from the SP, including Akhilesh, as it has failed to keep poll promises. Their next choice is the BSP.
Mufti Zulfikar of Muzaffarnagar, which was rocked by communal violence three years ago, says Muslims will be forced to vote for the BSP if the SP fails to come together. Mulayam’s support for Amar Singh, too, is a worry.
For the SP, the 2017 battle is all but lost, a truce or not.