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'Akhilesh can damage SP but cannot be a great leader on his own'

October 24, 2016 18:31 IST

‘If Muslims who are 20 percent of UP’s population feel the SP has no future they will go with the BSP. Even if 10 percent Muslim vote goes to the BSP every equation will change.’

Indian politics has not seen anything like what is going on in Uttar Pradesh.

What is unfolding in Lucknow is straight out of a television soap, with father fighting son, nephew opposing uncle, and cousins playing politics, while an outsider is in the midst of it all.

Why is Mulayam Singh hell-bent on cutting the ground from under his son Akhilesh Singh’s feet? What is special about Shivpal Yadav that makes Mulayam pick him over the chief minister? Why is Amar Singh back in the Samajwadi Party?

And crucially, why are the leaders more concerned about their individual turf more than putting up a joint front for a critical round of assembly elections, due in just a few months’ time?

To make sense of what is happening in Uttar Pradesh, Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ interviewed Shahid Siddiqui, former Samajwadi Party member and editor of Urdu newspaper Nai Duniya.

Siddiqui, image, below, was sacked from the Samajwadi Party in 2012 for interviewing Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat. He was removed by Ram Gopal Yadav, the same man who was sacked by Mulayam Singh from the party on Sunday.

We have seen family disputes before but the goings-on in the SP are like nothing we have seen. Can you explain what is happening in the Samajwadi Party?

This is an old battle, an expected one. This is like a family battle in a feudal set-up where such palace conspiracies take place and are in fact expected.

Differences between Akhilesh and Shivpal are not new. Shivpal always wanted to inherit power in Uttar Pradesh from his brother Mulayam Singh Yadav. That did not happen in 2012 and from then on Shivpal has been unhappy and angry. The problem went on from then and has now reached a point where Akhilesh has revolted in his own way and Shivpal is trying to extract his pound of flesh.

Mulayam Singh initially wanted to be neutral but he has failed. Mulayam made Akhilesh the chief minister in 2012 thinking that he himself will go for the prime minister’s post in the 2014 elections. However, things did not work out that way and Mulayam was left with no position (of power). After that the family wanted Mulayam to take over as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh but Akhilesh refused to give up his post.

In this situation Ram Gopal Yadav stood by Akhilesh and said that he should be the chief ministerial face of the Samajwadi Party in the 2017 assembly elections and thus began the tussle between the old leaders of the Samajwadi Party and the new. Now the pressure is on Akhilesh to resign and make way for Mulayam to should lead the party in the 2017 elections.

Did Mulayam always want to become the chief minister after the Samajwadi Party lost badly in the 2014 parliamentary elections?

Yes. Mulayam was disappointed when the Samajwadi Party won only five seats from Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 parliamentary elections. He was expecting his party to win at least 40-50 seats so he could be a kingmaker but that did not happen. After that there was a talk of grand alliance and he thought he could be its leader.

He felt that since he could not be the leader in Delhi, he could be the leader in Lucknow, and people around him started saying that Mulayam should take over as chief minister since Akhilesh was not meeting the expectations of the people. These things happen in Indian feudal political set-ups as they are autocratic, not democratic.

What was the grand alliance theory about?

Before the Bihar elections, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav came to Mulayam Singh Yadav and told him that they all will merge into one national party. They said they will contest the Bihar elections under Mulayam’s leadership. Everything was worked out and all the old Janata Dal leaders were part of it. Mulayam however scuttled it then, but now the news has come out from Shivpal that Ram Gopal Yadav scuttled that grand alliance to help the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mulayam said he wanted to join Lalu and Nitish’s alliance but it was Ram Gopal and Akhilesh who convinced him that they will not benefit anything from the grand alliance.

But why would Ram Gopal Yadav be against the grand alliance?

All of them have an understanding at the highest level. He wanted his cases withdrawn. Sitting in Delhi he was playing his own power games by showing off to people that he was important and powerful. He did that during the time of the United Progressive Alliance too for the Indo-US nuclear deal.

He was always trying to get close to people in power in Delhi and made them feel that he could get things done in Lucknow through Mulayam. In UP he knows he is not important but he used to throw his weight about in Delhi. Leaders are as weak as any other human being. They seem to be powerful but in reality they are extremely insecure characters. Because of this insecurity they do extremely silly things.

You tweeted that Ram Gopal Yadav was sacked from the Samajwadi Party the same way he sacked you from the party.

When I interviewed Narendra Modiji (as a journalist), Shivpal Yadav went to every TV channel and said I did not belong to the Samajwadi Party although the fact is I joined the party in front of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Azam Khan. I was sacked just for interviewing Modi and Ram Gopal threw me out on that pretext without consulting Mulayam Singh.

I am not complaining because Ram Gopal has now been thrown out of the party on the same charges by Mulayam Singh.

Does it mean that Akhilesh and Ram Gopal Yadav had some kind of an understanding with the BJP for not letting the grand alliance come into the picture?

All of them have been working with the BJP secretly. Even Mulayam Singh was working secretly with the BJP as he has to run a state with the help of the Centre. In the Rajya Sabha the SP was supporting many bills of the BJP government. They isolated the Congress on many bills.

Are Akhilesh and Ram Gopal Yadav powerful enough to form their own party by splitting the Samajwadi Party?

The Samajwadi Party has two very important components, ‘MY’. That is, Muslims and Yadavs. The Muslims and Yadavs are with Mulayam and as far as the party organisation is concerned it is with Shivpal. Ram Gopal Yadav was never on the ground. He was in Delhi, in the Rajya Sabha. He was always cut off from the organisation and from grass-root workers. Akhilesh has his own face and support but it is a small section of young people, they are not the core voters of SP.

The core voter for the SP is the Muslim-Yadav vote which will go to Mulayam Singh and that forms 24 percent of the party’s votes. The rest four to five percent voted against Mayawati due to anti-incumbency or for the young face of Akhilesh. Akhilesh on his own can damage the Samajwadi party but on his own he will not emerge as a great leader.

Don’t the leaders realise they are harming the Samajwadi Party by their infighting?

That is the unfortunate part. Power blinds you and when you get this kind of power you only look at your own share. History tells us that these kind of feudal parties go (out) this way. They see they are being damaged but they don’t care because they only care for their own share and that is what is happening in the SP. Whether they break up or not (is a different matter), but they have brought the dirt of the family out on street and it is terrible.

We have seen the division of the Congress many times and of the Janata Dal too but we have not seen any family battle out in the open. In the past it never used to come out in the open but today we are in the era of live TV and social media. Everything is reported within minutes.

What about Amar Singh, why was he taken back in the party? And what is the problem between Akhilesh and Amar Singh?

The Akhilesh vs Amar Singh battle is old. From the very beginning Ram Gopal Yadav was working for Mulayam Singh but when Amar Singh emerged on the scene Ram Gopal was sidelined. It was Amar Singh who was managing and networking for the SP in Delhi. This made Ram Gopal very unhappy. 

Akhilesh used to be close to him, would call him ‘uncle’. In fact, it was Amar Singh who convinced Mulayam to let Akhilesh marry Dimple. When Dimple lost the Ferozabad elections (in 2009), Akhilesh felt that it was because of Amar Singh as he was managing all the film-stars, Ram Gopal convinced Akhilesh at that time that Dimple lost the election to Raj Babbar of the Congress because of Amar Singh. Akhilesh suffered a personal setback over the Ferozabad election, as some of the leaders commented that Akhilesh claims to be a mass leader but could not make his own wife win.

So Akhilesh held a grudge against Amar Singh and convinced Mulayam to throw him out of the party, which his father did. Now Mulayam Singh wants to get back to power and realised that Ram Gopal who was networking for Mulayam earlier was now working for Akhilesh. So Mulayam wanted Amar Singh back in the party.

(The issue was precipitated) When there was a party to honour Zee TV chairman Subhash Chandra where Amar Singh made some comments about Akhilesh which was either recorded or someone passed on the message to Akhilesh. This has ultimately led to today’s impasse. Akhilesh has now said he is ready to accept everything except Amar Singh. Mulayam on the other hand in his speech at the SP meet on Monday said he will not let Amar Singh go.

Why is Mulayam Singh so fond of Amar Singh?

I have my own theory which I will not like to share.

Who will benefit from this infighting in the Samajwadi Party?

The BJP can benefit but it can be damaged also. The way things are going, if Muslims who are 20 percent of the population feel the SP has no future they will go with the BSP. Out of 20 percent of Muslim votes even if 10 percent goes to the BSP every equation will change.

But I feel there is still time because the way things are going on in UP at the moment it is like a soap opera. We don’t know what Mulayam will do. Whether the SP will remain united. Right now 122 episodes are over (laughs) but we do not know what is going to happen next. Let things get crystallise and let us get a clearer picture.

Image: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav address Samajwadi Party officials with a portrait of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav looking down on him. Photograph: Pawan Kumar/Reuters.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf