Mulayam’s cousin and senior Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav’s son Akshay is all set to take the electoral plunge in Ferozabad. However, he faces tough competition from BJP’s S P Singh Baghel. Renu Mittal reports.
In the powerful Yadav clan of Uttar Pradesh led by patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, another son is set to rise. Cousin Ram Gopal Yadav's 27-year-old son Akshay Yadav, so far dabbling in the business of seeds, is the Samajwadi Party candidate from Ferozabad, the heartland of Yadav politics.
Pitted against him is S P Singh Baghel who has recently joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and is seen as a powerful candidate giving the Yadavs a run for their money. Baghel is seen as a powerful caste leader who still had two and a half years of his Rajya Sabha seat left when he quit the Bahujan Samaj Party and joined the BJP to take on the latest Yadav on the block.
Baghel has been a three-term Lok Sabha member from the Samajwadi Party but when he was denied a ticket to adjust one of the Yadavs he quit and joined the BSP with Mayawati giving him a Rajya Sabha berth.
The fact that Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the SP in the Rajya Sabha for the last 23 years, has been steadily campaigning and camping in Ferozabad speaks volumes for Baghel’s impact. That is also coupled by the rising anger among the aam karyakarta Yadavs who are feeling cheated after the powerful families of Samajwadi Party are being preferred in ticket distribution.
Ferozabad is at the heart of the Yadav heartland with almost four lakh members of the community. It touches Mainpuri, the bowl of Yadav politics from where strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting, and borders Etawah and Etah, the other powerful Yadav domains where it is difficult to defeat the Samajwadi Party, backed by its Yadav and Muslim support combination.
In 2009, Congress's Raj Babbar dealt a body blow to the Samajwadi Party when the actor-turned-politician defeated Dimple Yadav, the daughter-in-law of Mulayam Singh Yadav, in a by election when the seat was vacated by her husband Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who had contested from two constituencies.
Babbar, like Baghel, had quit the Samajwadi Party after years of association and it is interesting how in 2014 the latter has mounted a stiff challenge and taken on another Yadav.
The list of the family is long and likely to get longer. Mulayam Singh is MP from Mainpuri, his nephew Dharmender is an MP from Badaun, daughter-in-law Dimple is MP from Kannauj, son Akhilesh was an MP and is now an MLA and chief minister, cousin Ram Gopal is Rajya Sabha MP for last 23 years and was earlier MP from Sambhal, brother Shivpal Yadav is MLA and minister in the UP government, at least 3 of his samdhis are sitting MLAs and so on. The list goes on.
Interestingly, Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting from a second seat Azamgarh which offers the best winning combination of Yadavs and Muslims in eastern UP.
Speculation is rife that Mulayam Singh may vacate the Azamgarh seat with second son Prateek contesting from here in a by election. He is the half-brother of Akhilesh Yadav and there is a great deal of pressure from his mother Sadhna, the second wife of Mulayam, to adjust her son in the family business of politics.
It is common knowledge that there is no love lost between the two brothers with father Mulayam Singh having to work overtime to keep the peace.
What is significant in the Ferozabad election is that over 1 lakh voters of the Jatav community, committed to Mayawati, are likely to vote for BJP's Baghel to ensure that Akshay Yadav does not win. This is because the BSP is not in the race in Ferozabad and the Jatavs, like Mayawati, are dead set against the Samajwadi Party.
While a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named said that this is only happening in Ferozabad since the saffron party has a winning chance there, there are strong indications that the scenario may be replicated in other constituencies where the BJP and the BSP may have arrived at an informal understanding to help each other with the transfer of votes to keep the Samajwadi Party out of the winning slot.
For example in nearby Fatehpur Sikri, where BSP's Seema Upadhyaya has an edge over others, BJP's Baghel could well ensure that the Baghel vote in the constituency could go to the BSP. With this formula both the BJP and the BSP could be seen as gainers in certain constituencies to keep the Samajwadi Party out.
With the entry of Baghel in Ferozabad constituency, the BJP appears to have strengthened itself along with the Modi mantra which the party is chanting. The Modi magic appears to be working in those constituencies where the BJP has hit upon a right combination of castes, candidates and where the opposition is weak.
The well entrenched caste politics of Uttar Pradesh, particularly in the rural hinterland, is seen to be very much intact with Narendra Modi not able to override the caste combinations which define the state’s politics.
Debutant Akshay Yadav is facing a tough election though on the face of it he appears confident possibly because the administrative machinery is in the hands of the Samajwadi Party and his cousin, the chief minister.
Baghel who began as a sub inspector and was part of the security detail of Mulayam Singh Yadav before he studied further and then branched out into politics, understands well how the official machinery works and how it is not so difficult for the ruling party to manage the booths and the machines. He wants paramilitary forces for a free and fair election and this apprehension appears to be well founded since a number of people have expressed reservations over the elections being fair in Ferozabad.
A victory for the BJP in Ferozabad would buttress the argument that Modi has made inroads in the caste base of the Samajwadi Party but an accurate assumption would be that if the BJP wins this election it would be a victory of S P Singh Baghel, a man who understands caste politics better than many others and is using this to his advantage along with the Modi undercurrent in elections 2014.