A split in Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party appeared all but formalised on Friday as two warring Samajwadi Party factions refused to back down before the election commission, setting the stage for a fractious fight in assembly polls a month away.
The poll panel heard lawyers from both sides — one led by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and another by his father Mulayam Singh Yadav — for four hours before reserving its order on the current name and symbol, the bicycle.
Sources said the EC would consult lawyers over the weekend and pass an interim order on Monday. Experts say the EC might freeze the SP name and symbol and ask both sides to pick new ones — just a day before filing of nominations begins on January 17.
If the poll panel decides to allot the symbol and name to one side, analysts favour the Akhilesh faction as it is said to have the backing of a majority of party lawmakers.
A split would also catalyse an alliance between the Akhilesh faction and the Congress.
India’s most populous state goes to the polls in seven phases beginning on February 11 and is staring at a four-cornered contest between the Mulayam faction, the Akhilesh-Congress combine, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Any split in the SP — which draws votes from the other backward classes and Muslims — is likely to help Mayawati’s BSP and the BJP.
Late in the evening, Akhilesh reportedly called Mulayam and asked his father to let the CM have his way for three months and oversee the polls, a reiteration of an earlier offer.
Mulayam has repeatedly said he wouldn’t allow a split in a party that represents the largest chunk of the erstwhile Janata Parivar and the socialist ideology that emerged as the biggest adversary to the Congress in the 70s.
The last-minute chaos in the party over symbol, candidates and campaigning might also force Muslims – who influence the outcome in at least 100 of the state’s 403 seats – to shift loyalties.
The dispute is rooted in a months-long bruising fight for party control between Akhilesh and his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, who has Mulayam’s backing.
On Friday, Mulayam, Shivpal Yadav and leaders of Akhilesh’s camp, including Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Aggarwal, arrived at the EC office. Neither Akhilesh nor Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh were present.
Lawyers from Mulayam’s camp told the EC that he continued to be SP president and was legally entitled to the party name and symbol. Both sides argued to retain the symbol, but none pressed for freezing it, sources said.
Appearing for Akhilesh, senior counsels Rajeev Dhavan and Kapil Sibal said as an “overwhelming majority” of party lawmakers were with the CM, he was entitled to symbol.
The Akhilesh faction also cited past precedent, where the Election Symbol Order of 1968 and provisions of the Representation of the People Act, including Section 29A, were used to decide disputes over the party name and symbol.
However, former solicitor general Mohan Parasaran, appearing for Mulayam’s faction, said precedents cited could not be applied to the present case as there was no “official split” and the problems were only “administrative” in nature.
They also argued that the Akhilesh didn’t have the mandate to seek the symbol as his election as party president was not recognised by party constitution.
“The other side has only laid claim to the party name and symbol, but has not submitted any legal representation to show there is a split in the party,” Mulayam’s lawyer Gauri Rampal told reporters after the hearing concluded.