The Samajwadi Party is standing at ideological crossroads 17 years after its formation as it prepares for a three-day 'introspection meet' beginning on Wednesday in Agra amid charges that it has been reduced to a family fiefdom and has lost its socialist moorings.
Formed after breaking away from the Janata Dal in October 1992 in Agra, the Samajwadi Party is looking for an ideological plank that could help it reinvent itself in changing times.
The April-May Lok Sabha elections saw its tally of seats come down from 38 to 21 out of a total 80 from Uttar Pradesh, the state where the party was born.
While several of its founding members have quit the party complaining it had lost its socialist moorings and become a family fiefdom - it is headed by former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav - even its Muslim votebank has been fast slipping away.
"The party is at a crossroads both ideologically and from the point of view of its votebank. It is worried with its loss in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections and the way certain segments, especially Muslims, have been moving away from the party," Kanpur-based political analyst AK Verma told IANS.
Verma believes that in order to revive the party, "Yadav will have to reconnect himself with the common man, bring democracy in the party organisation and prevent it from becoming a personal fiefdom."
Senior party leader Reoti Raman Singh said: "This convention is to prepare a strategy for future to revitalise the party." Singh was, however, confident that the party would form the government in Uttar Pradesh after the 2012 Assembly polls.
But socialist leaders feel that Mulayam Singh Yadav's commitment to the ideals of socialism has been fading.
"If the older breed of Lohiaites and socialists have continued to keep their distance from the Samajwadi Party, it is because of Mulayam's confused and rather half-hearted commitment to values," said former socialist leader Vinay Paliwal.
He said these very values had kept the socialist movement at the forefront of all struggles and enabled leaders like HV Kamath, George Fernandes, Madhu Limaye, SM Joshi, NG Goray and Kishan Patnaik to play a significant role in Parliament.
Another former socialist, Ram Kishore, believes that "Mulayam Singh's friendship with Amar Singh, Anil Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan has also been questioned in the party. The original founding members like Azam Khan and Salim Sherwani are now out of the party.
It is yet unclear if Amar Singh, who has been convalescing after a surgery in Singapore, will be able to attend the 'introspection' meet. Dharmendra Yadav, party MP and nephew of Mulayam Singh, told IANS: "It is not confirmed if he (Amar Singh) would be able to make it."
"Now the party is closer to the hero of the Babri Masjid episode Kalyan Singh, (leaders of other parties) like Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan. It is a totally confused party being run like a private company with all important levers of control in the hands of family members."
Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had been chief minister of the state three times, was thrown out of power in 2007 and his party managed to win only 97 seats - down from 148 in 2002 - in the 403-seat Assembly.
He had a solid votebank of Muslims and earned the title of 'Mulla Mulayam' after he took on Hindu zealots trying to lay a siege on the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1990. The mosque was demolished in 1992 when the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Kalyan Singh was chief minister.
But the Samajwadi Party lost out majorly on the Muslim vote in the April-May elections by shaking hands with the same Kalyan Singh, who had quit the BJP.
According to a survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), as many as 60 percent of Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh had gone to the Samajwadi Party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, but the figure came down to 46 percent in the 2007 assembly polls and 30 percent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
"Giving a clean chit to Kalyan Singh and shaking hands with a person who was chief minister at the time when the Babri Masjid was razed enraged Muslim voters and leaders and they voted for different parties, especially the Congress," a Rajya Sabha MP of the Samajwadi Party told IANS.
Sudha Pai, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "Kalyan Singh is definitely a factor. However, along with this, anger among Muslim leaders like Azam Khan created problems for the party in parts of western Uttar Pradesh."