Sometimes, visuals convey only half the story. Like the red and green dots that emerge on the skyline on both sides as you enter Etawah district through the newly built Lucknow- Agra expressway in central Uttar Pradesh (UP). An array of Samajwadi Party (SP) flags put on semi-plastered houses and thatched rooftops indicate voters’ loyalty in Etawah and adjoining Mainpuri, pocket boroughs of the Yadav clan. When Modi wave swept the state in 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the SP retained all of its seats here. Party’s founder Mulayam Singh Yadav or netaji is a revered figure here. People in this belt say that they owe their ‘existence’ to netaji. His progression from a school teacher to a socialist leader to chief minister changed the fortunes of people here. Siafai tehsil, nataji’s birthplace resembles a mini-township with an an airstrip, hospital, international sports stadium and clocktower. Here, people do not vote for the party, but for the Yadav parivar.
The parivar is entangled in a battle. As Akhilesh Yadav eyes a second term as the chief minister (CM), divides in the party have begun to show. Till last month, the CM was fighting for both political space in UP and position within his party. The later, threatened by his uncle and veteran party member Shivpal Singh Yadav.
It is in this backdrop that voters in central UP are expected to ignore the spat, move on and stay loyal to the party. If SP does not make the cut in central UP, it would mean that the SP’s infighting has cost it heavily and is bound to hamper its prospects in other parts of the state as well.
Will Etawah ditch SP?
Election in this belt is 10 days away, but travel through Mainpuri and Etawah and the spiralling affect of Yadav family’s internal spat reveals itself. The SP is still the strongest force in the region but it is not difficult to find men and women wavering from their loyalty for the party.
On January 17, a green signboard reading ‘Mulayam ke log’ (Mulayam’s people) was put outside a dimly lit room in a narrow lane near Idgah in Etawah. It was preceded by the resignation of Sunil Yadav, SP district president of Etawah and around 500 party members. SP is not repeating the sitting MLA from Etawah assembly constituency and has given ticket to Kuldeep Gupta alias Santu, who is considered to be close to netaji’s cousin Professor Ram Gopal Yadav. In the Yadav family feud, Ram Gopal is said be on the CM’s side; Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal belong to the warring faction. “We are against Santu’s candidature. We cannot continue working in a party that does not respect netaji,” says Sunil.
For the outside world, the war in Yadav clan might be over. But in Etawah, the SP’s garh (bastion), the split is out in the open and has very much affected the voter refrain.
Around one kilometer from Sunil Yadav’s office, 25-years-old Santosh Kumar runs a tea shop outside Etawah railway station. “Don’t forget that Congress got deciminated after ruling the country for decades. These days, you cannot take anything for granted,” he says. Kumar is a BJP voter. But he says that his views on SP are are not based on his political inclination. “I am being pragmatic. Just a few days ago, BSP candidate Narendra Nath Chauhan alias Ballu held a rally here. More than 80 per cent of people in the rally were Muslims. I don’t know how you interpert this. But my understanding is that while the BJP will retain its core vote of lodh, baniya and pandit communities, the Muslim community will shift from SP to BSP. It will eventually help the BJP,” he says.
Elsewhere, behind the high baundary wall of Etawah jail, 73-years-old Shyam Singh is serving chaat to his customers on the roadside. Singh opens up after much pursuation. “Some people are saying that this time, Muslims have decided to opt for the BJP. Bhagwaan jaane kya hoga (God knows what will happen). I am telling you what I heard,” he says.
Pankaj Yadav, an SP worker in his early 20s, interrupts, insisting that all is well in his party. “On February 9, netaji will visit Etawah and everything will be alright. The moment he will address party workers, they will fall in line and all factions will disappear,” assures Pankaj, who works as a supervisor in a telecom company.
The feud that never was
Voters across the region percieve the ugly spat in the Yadav family as unfortunate but necessary exercise to cement Akhilesh Yadav’s position in his party.
“Sab dikhawaa hai (all of this was scripted),” 55-years-old Rajendra Yadav, a motor-mechanic on Etawah-Mainpuri highway, declares as a matter of fact. “See, it is simple. Netaji has grown old and wants to give the command of the party to his son. Had he passed on the baton to Akhilesh in a usual manner, it would have caused heartburn to many people in the party specially Shivpal. So, Akhilesh took over complete charge of the party the backdrop of a battle. This way, Akhilesh’s position got his solidified for years to come. At the same time, no one can say that netaji made him the heir,” he explains.
In spite of the much publicised spat between the CM and his uncle; Mulayam Singh Yadav saying that he will not campain for the alliance; and Shivpal Yadav expressing the intent of forming his own party post election, somehow voters see it as a family dispute. “Jhagdaa kis parivaar mein nahi hota. Log cycle ko jaante hain, bas (which family does not have disputes? Voters here identify only one party symbol i.e. cycle),” says 70-years-old Ram Dular, a resident of Mainpuri’s Jaswantpur village.
People of Mainpuri are aware of the disenchantment among party workers in adjoining Etawah. “Suna toh hai wahan kya hua. Par hamein nahi lagta ke wahan bhi jhagdey se vote par koi asar hoga. Is chetr mein bas sapaa hi hai (We have been hearing about developments over there. But I don’t think disgrutlment will any impact on votinf preerences. People in this region only know SP),” says Ram Dular.
You will hardly come across someone adding ‘ji’ to the CM’s name as a mark of respect. Among youngsters, he is popular as Akshilesh bhiayya. He is Askhilesh for the elderly. As if he is one of their own. In Singhpura village, off Mainpuri Etawah highway, elderly swear by netaji and the young generation is all for the son. “Akhilesh Bhaiyya is working on a new pattern. He is today’s leader. No party in the country can match the development work he has done. Netaji must have done some good things but we were too young to remember that. In our memory, whatever UP has got, it is because of mukhyamanri ji,” says 24-years- old Sharad Yadav, mentioning almost every scheme and welfare measure announced by the CM in the last five years.
Sharad’s friend Rinku Yadav gives another reason for his fondness for the CM- the alliance with Congress party. “Opinion polls were giving around 200 seats to SP. With the alliance, our party will cross 300 mark and form the government,” he says.
But the alliance means that the SP was not confident of winning by itself. Right? “Nahi, aisa nahin hai. Akhilesh bhaiyya ko dilli mein kaam karne ka experience nahi hai. Who unhe Congress se milega (CM Akhilesh does not have experience of working at the Centre. That is something he will gain from the Congress).
Sitting on a cot, Shyam Singh, 62-years-old retired home-guard patiently listens as Sharad and Rinku speak. Singh says he does not blame them for not acknowledging the work done in previous SP regimes when
Mulayam Singh Yadav was the CM. “It is natural. They are young and a young leader would appeal to them a lot more than netaji,” he says. For Singh, Akhilesh Yadav taking charge of the party is prakriti ka niyam
(nature’s rule). “Sons all over take the charge from their fathers. What is the big deal about? You people (media) are partly responsible for this. Just let them be,” he says.
Shivpal Singh Yadav is the antagonist-the man who is out to dethrone Akshilesh bhaiyya- in the word of majority of voters in the region. Instead, he should accept the future, including his diminishing relevance, with humility, they say.
Kishor Yadav, a farmer in Shivpal Yadav’s constituency, Jaswantnagar, does not mince words. “When the crop is ready, chaff is separated from it. SP is that like that crop from which Shivpal should be weeded out,” he says.
Kishor gets provoked when asked if Shivpal Yadav is right in wanting his due after nurturing the party for all these years with his elder brother Mulayam. “He did nothing except walking along, holding his brother’s hand. And that is what he does even now. He has been an MLA four times. Still, he cannot win a single election on his own credentials. He needs his brother to address a rally here to galvanise voters,” he says.
Rakesh Yadav, 37, runs a construction material shop in business in Dumila, less than a kilometer from the Yadavs’ Saifai residence. Nowhere in UP does the loyalty for SP runs deeper than in Saifai. Yet, anti-Shivpal remarks fly thick here. Rakesh Yadav says the main issue is that Shivpal Yadav wants lumpen elements in the party and the CM wants them so that the party’s image is not tainted. “Akhilesh party ko saaf karna chahte hain. Is baat se Shivpal ko takleef hai (Akhilesh wants to cleanse the party and Shivpal is at pain to see this happening),” he says.
“He is dreaming of becoming the chief minister. He should read the pulse of the people here and understand that this is Akhilesh’s era. Whoever opposes him, will be thrown out, even if he is his uncle,” says Rakesh.
Interjects Praveen Yadav, who owns a paan kiosk next to Rakesh’s shop. “Shivpal ko ye sab shobha nahi deta. Izaat kamai jaati hai, maangi nahi jaati (All this does not suit Shivpal. You earn respect. You don’t ask for it),” he says.
“Ya rajneetik manthan hai bhaiyya. Thodi uthal puthal toh hogi (this is political churning. Some turbulence is bound to happen),” Praveen sums it up.