Samajwadi Party then and now: Fight between the past and the present

There is trouble brewing in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the polls with the ruling party stuck in a messy battle between father and son. While Akhilesh Yadav has been declared the Samajwadi Party’s national working president, his father and party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav has challenged the same calling it unconstitutional. Both have approached the Election Commission to decide who gets to lay their hands on the party symbol that is essential for the election campaign. The family battle over Samajwadi Party is far more than a battle for power and reputation. It is a tussle between the past and the present, a fight between Uttar Pradesh as it was 25 years back and the state as Akhilesh understands it to be in the present.

The post-Independence period in Uttar Pradesh was completely under the control of the Congress party. However, the electoral strength of the Congress in UP stood on the shoulders three communities — the Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims. The 1980s, however, saw the weakening of this electoral base, mainly due to two reasons. First, was a gradual economic uplift of the backward castes due to the green revolution, that was reflected in a political assertiveness in opposition to the Congress. Second, was a milestone moment in Uttar Pradesh’s communal history when in 1986 prime minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered the unlocking of the Babri Masjid that eventually led to its demolition in 1992 followed by massive Hindu-Muslim riots.

The Congress had lost its Muslim supporters significantly and the ground was ripe for a party to step in with ideologies of secularism and broad-based socialism. The political vacuum created by the Congress was an ideal atmosphere for Mulayam Singh Yadav, who considered socialist leaderRam Manohar Lohia as his political guru, to amass votes from those who were particularly hit by the Congress rule — the backward castes and the Muslims.
Born in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh in 1939, Mulayam Singh Yadav was a staunch follower of Lohia. The first time he entered UP’s legislative Assembly was in 1967 on a ticket by Lohia’s party- the Samyukta Socialist Party. After the death of Lohia, he joined the Bhartiya Kranti Dal of Charan Singh that later merged with the Janata Dal. In 1990, the Janata Dal split at an all-India level and Mulayam Singh joined the faction led by Chandrashekhar. In 1992, he broke away from Chandrashekhar and formed his own Samajwadi Party along with brother Shivpal Yadav.

The Babri Masjid riots had clearly pushed away Muslim votes from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party capitalised on them. Mulayam Singh’s evocative promise to protect the Babri Masjid against all odds earned him the title – Mullah Mulayam. While Muslims formed one pillar of the SP strength, the other pillar was formed by the backward castes, but only a section of them namely the upper castes among the OBCs like the Yadavs and Ahirs.

When UP went to polls in 2012, Samajwadi Party came out with an unmatched victory. Their vote share had gone up to 29.15% from 3.72 % in 2007. Electoral analysis said the party’s victory was ensured by many who were traditionally never a part of the Samajwadi party’s electoral base. With the state won, Mulayam Singh installed his son Akhilesh Yadav as the Chief Minister.
An engineer by profession, Akhilesh Yadav’s educational and political background was very different from that of his father’s and most other elder members of the Samajwadi Party. Educationally, he had obtained a Masters in civil environmental engineering from University of Mysore and had gone on to pursue another Masters from University of Sydney in Australia. Politically, Akhilesh Yadav’s strength lay in his ability to connect with the youth in Uttar Pradesh. Unlike Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party had made strong inroads into student politics. Akhilesh made full use of the Samajwadi Party’s strategy of involving with students and soon became head of four of the youth wings of the party. As noted by a profile of Akhilesh in Caravan magazine, he was everybody’s bhaiya in college, effectively drawing conversations on cars, bikes and the newest technologies.

While Akhilesh’s image of popularity had given a strong, much needed boost to the party, two incidents during his chief ministerial tenure had come as a significant blow to him. First among them were the Muzaffarnagar riots held in September 2013 that left more than 60 people dead and about 50,000 displaced. The mishandling of the riots was a severe blow to the Akhilesh’s government. While Hindus looked up to the BJP, the Muslims blamed the Samajwadi Party for the massacre. The second incident was the gangrape of two teenage girls in Badaun and poorly managed investigation of the same resulting in an alienation of the lower OBCs from the state government.
These two incidents convinced Akhilesh of the necessity for the party to break away from the caste-based, dynastic electoral strategy and move ahead with changing times. The change in Akhilesh’s techniques was first visible when he tried to keep the infamous ‘dons’ of Uttar Pradesh away from the party. His efforts at avoiding alliances with several such elements brought him into a fierce conflict with the party elders, particularly with his uncle Shivpal Yadav.

While Akhilesh considers himself the natural heir of the Samajwadi Party, capable of bringing in the required changes, Mulayam Singh along with his brother Shivpal is staunchly protecting the traditional electoral base of the party as its founders. The struggle is really between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’.