For the first time, Akhilesh is leading the Samajwadi Party almost single-handed into a major election, but he is not the only one running the show.
Shikha Shalini reports.
Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav (Netaji, as he is popularly called) is almost bedridden.
Party president and son Akhilesh Yadav is trying to exorcise the “family” tag from the party.
Uncles, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law were once bywords in the party; the clan is now silent and low key.
So, who’s actually running the SP?
For the first time, Akhilesh is leading the SP almost single-handed into a major election (in 2017, the party had tied up with the Congress, then led by Rahul Gandhi, and for the 2019 parliamentary polls, it formed a coalition with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party).
The recently launched party theme song that was shared on its official Twitter handle features Akhilesh prominently.
“In the SP, whether it’s about internal politics or candidate selection, the party president, Akhilesh Yadav, mostly seeks advice from the party’s state president, Naresh Uttam Patel, leader of the Opposition in the UP assembly, Ram Govind Chaudhary, and senior party leader Rajendra Chaudhary. These leaders have a stronghold on the party’s internal matters. Aashish Yadav is heading the social media war room for the UP elections but he is not a relative of Akhilesh. Of course, Akhilesh’s uncle, Ram Gopal Yadav plays an important role in party-related issues,” said a party functionary.
But these claims are countered by one who has worked with Akhilesh closely.
“There are no trouble-shooters in the party organisation in whom Akhilesh has unreserved faith... Akhilesh alone takes every decision in the party,” said a former Cabinet minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government who has now joined Bharatiya Janata Party.
Party insiders also say serving and retired bureaucrats provide inputs and Akhilesh values these -- possibly even more than political inputs.
Former UP Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan, chief advisor to Yadav when he was CM and chairman of UP State Industrial Development Corporation, continues to be a valuable advisor.
SP youth wing leaders, such as Sanjay Lathar and Udayveer Singh, manage different political campaigns and are considered to be close to Akhilesh.
These two were stripped of their party posts for their loyalty to Akhilesh during the last family feud.
According to Ram Govind Chaudhary, “The party’s national president and the state president may tell you about the party organisation; I am not the right person. I must say that national president Akhilesh Yadav respects everyone, every party worker from any corner of the state. Such treatment I have seen only during (former PM) Chandra Shekharji’s stint; no other party gives so much respect to party workers.”
He adds that the young representatives of different groups of the Samajwadi Party like Chhatra Sabha, Yuvjan Sabha, Mulayam Singh Youth Brigade, and Lohiya Vahini are extremely significant for Akhilesh.
Ghanshyam Tiwary, SP spokesperson, explains the party’s working structure: “The way to look at the Samajwadi Party should be different from the way you would look at a national party, which has a properly organised bureaucratic structure. In a regional party, the glass ceiling is low. Everyone has the ability -- and the aspiration -- to directly connect with the national president, Akhilesh Yadavji. As a result, the party gets internally organised more in task groups based on situation, rather than any structured set-up. Here party leaders or workers gain visibility on many bases”.
The official website of the party seeks to reinforce this.
There is a list of party spokespersons, MLAs, and MPs but no details of any organisational set-up.
Akhilesh periodically contacts and organises meetings with ex-MLAs, former MPs, and ex-ministers across the state.
Veteran SP leader Rajendra Chaudhary says: “The party has neither any core committee nor advisory committee. Anyone can give suggestions to the party president and he may consider these ideas. The whole system is democratic. He welcomes the opinion of all the new and old party members.”
Here are some go-to men in the Samajwadi Party.
Naresh Uttam Patel
The Uttar Pradesh state president of the SP is a Kurmi (OBC).
He is considered the second-most important man in the party’s state organisational unit.
His influence can be seen in the fact that he has been entrusted with the selection of candidates in the past few important elections, and this time again aspirants are knocking at his door seeking tickets.
He was a minister in Mulayam Singh’s first government and is considered to be close to the SP patriarch.
He is a three-term member of the legislative council.
Akhilesh nominated him as state president of the party after the family feud.
Ram Govind Chaudhary
A prominent socialist leader, he was once a loyal associate of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.
Akhilesh nominated him the leader of the SP legislature party; he is also the leader of the Opposition in the assembly.
An eight-term MLA, he was a minister in the Mulayam and the Akhilesh governments.
He had openly supported Akhilesh during the 2016 dispute with his father Mulayam.
Insiders say because of support from seasoned politicians like Chaudhary, Akhilesh gained endorsement as the most suitable leadership face in the party.
An ex-Cabinet minister and Jat leader, Chaudhary has been the shadow of Akhilesh Yadav since 2012.
He is considered to be among Akhilesh’s chief political advisors and has been designated chief spokesperson of the party.
He was also the target of the Shivpal Yadav (Akhilesh’s uncle) camp during the family feud.
He is the senior-most in Akhilesh’s young team and has worked for over three decades with Mulayam Singh.
He is a media communication expert who has previously worked with BBC for over a decade.
He prefers to be a low-key communications manager.
He is looking after the SP’s social media office where media, IT experts, and a few creative artists work.
In 2017, his team mainly focused on the campaign “Kaam Bolta Hai”.
These days he is busy managing social media and virtual election campaigning.
His team is creating small but impactful videos under 100 MB to woo youth and poor voters and creating such slogans as “10 March, UP Recharge”.
Ram Gopal Yadav
He is SP chief national general secretary.
Depending on the political situation that relates to national politics, he is assigned to attend the Opposition meetings.
Ram Gopal, a cousin of Mulayam and Shivpal Yadav, was expelled from the party after he sided with Akhilesh.
Shivpal accused him of instigating a split in the Yadav family.
He is considered to be the “think tank” in the party and is a vital strategist in the current election.