Akhilesh Yadav begins his campaign for next assembly election in Uttar Pradesh.
The looming danger of electoral reverses brought the feuding first family of Uttar Pradesh's ruling Samajwadi Party together on Thursday, November 3, as party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav flagged off son Akhilesh Yadav's rath yatra and Shivpal Yadav, with whom the chief minister has been locked in a bitter power struggle, extended his 'best wishes.'
With the strife between his chief minister son and youngest brother Shivpal threatening to derail the party's campaign months ahead of the assembly polls, Mulayam Singh played the role of peacemaker and brought the two together on one platform at an event, which many felt would be a solo Akhilesh show.
Ending days of suspense, Mulayam turned up at the La Martinere grounds, the venue for the flagging off of Akhilesh Yadav's Vikas se vijay ki or yatra, with Shivpal, who heads the SP's state unit, in tow.
Mulayam Singh took his seat on stage and was soon flanked by Akhilesh on one side and Shivpal on the other, as he sought to drive home the message that the party was united ahead of the polls and that he would still call the shots in the party buffeted by the turf war between his son and brother.
"Akhilesh ko hum shubhkamna detey hain (I wish Akhilesh well)," Shivpal said, adding the chief minister's march will send a message of unity across the state and halt the Bharatiya Janata Party in its tracks.
"Our target is to prevent the BJP from coming to power in the 2017 elections," Shivpal said.
Before embarking on the rath yatra to highlight the development work undertaken by his government over the last four years, the 43-year-old chief minister said, "I want to thank the youth for this historic event...From this yatra, we appeal to people to vote in favour of our party."
Akhilesh referred to "conspiracies" which adversely affected the party. "Due to some conspiracies we were affected a bit, but in the days to come we will be able to form the government again," Akhilesh, who has been blaming SP MP Amar Singh for the troubles in the party and family, said.
The days preceding Thursday's event had seen a battle of attrition between Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal leading to tit-for-tat sacking of ministers and leaders on rival sides.
Shivpal was sacked as a minister by Akhilesh, after Mulayam Singh, apparently siding with his brother and Amar Singh, expelled his counsin, SP General Secretary Professor Ram Gopal Yadav from the party for six years. Ram Gopal Yadav, a Rajya Sabha member, has been backing Akhilesh in the battle for Mulayam's legacy.
"I am happy Netaji (Mulayam), Shivpalii, all have come... more will join in due course," the chief minister said.
"I have the blessings of Azam Khan and I hope he will join me later in the yatra," he said in reply to a reporter's query as the senior cabinet minister was conspicuous by his absence.
Flagging off the shiny red Mercedes Benz rath, Mulayam Singh reminded party workers how difficult following the Socialist ideology was and congratulated Akhilesh on the launch of his march.
"The path of Samajwad (socialism) is difficult... I have faced lathis in agitations. This Samajwadi movement was built on sacrifices. The SP is a party of sacrifice and struggle. I know when there is a lathi-charge, barring 4, 5 persons who stay back, everyone runs away," the veteran Socialist declared.
The show of unity in the Yadav clan notwithstanding, fault lines within the party became visible when Akhilesh told journalists that he was not aware of attempts at forming a coalition with other parties.
"The national president (Mulayam) will decide what is to be done," Akhilesh said. "He will take a decision after giving it due thought."
"I am not aware if a coalition has come into existence or not," he added. "I also don't know what is being discussed. If a coalition is formed, political parties have to decide themselves who will lose or gain."
Mulayam Singh had sent Shivpal to meet leaders of various parties including Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh, ostensibly to invite them to the Samajwadi Party's silver jubilee celebrations on Saturday, November 5.
Shivpal Singh had gone on record favouring an alliance of 'Lohiawadi' (parties and politicians owing allegiance to Socialist titan Dr Rammanohar Lohia), 'Charan Singhwadi' (RLD) and 'Mahatmawadi' (Congress) forces to defeat the 'communal' BJP in the assembly polls.
Congress election strategist Prashant Kishor recently met Mulayam Singh in Delhi, triggering speculation of a Bihar-like 'mahagathbandhan' (grand alliance).
Nitish Kumar has voiced doubts about such a coalition materialising as it would require the coming together of the SP and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, who are opposed to each other.
"People will vote for Akhilesh." Professor Ramgopal Yadav's son Akshay Yadav, MP, said. "We will contest in his name and win."
Brushing aside remarks that Akhilesh was a 'trainee chief minister', his wife Dimple Yadav, a Lok Sabha MP, said, "If a trainee can do so much work, you can imagine what he will do in his second term as a professional."