UP Election 2017: On home turf, Yadav family image matters just as much as seats

In Uttar Pradesh’s heartland, where the election enters phase three, the debate is not whether the Yadav dominance in their stronghold would continue, it’s how the bitter power struggle in the Yadav first family would impact the prospect of individual members in the fray.

 

The once powerful Shivpal Yadav is a pale shadow of himself after the knock-out blow from nephew Akhilesh. Patriarch Mulayam Singh is a much subdued man these days, preferring to be away from the limelight. Some other members of the family are still in the process of adjusting to the generational shift in the party. The Yadav community has stood by Mulayam for over two decades but this time it’s a bit confused after the coup by Akhilesh which many perceive as an insult to Mulayam.

Netaji should have been allowed to retire with dignity. Family patriarchs are not treated this way in our community. He is aging. Akhilesh could have waited for his time,” says Rajendra Yadav, a hotel worker in Meerut and a resident of Jaswant Nagar. “Of course, we would stand by Akhilesh. We cannot think of an option beyond the Samajwadi Party.”

Not many are concerned with the fate of Shivpal though. During the course of conversation with several people of the region, one gathered the impression that he is perceived as a political manipulator. Some even suspect him of hobnobbing with the BJP. He is the candidate from Jaswant Nagar, a Samajwadi Party stronghold. “People involved in a crime would call up Shivpal and he would intervene on their behalf. This is one reason why the party has earned the notoriety for protecting criminals,” says driver Debendra Yadav who claims to be part of the wider Yadav clan and someone who gets invites for family functions in Mulayam’s household like all other Yadavs in Etawah.

However, in the 69 seats of central UP, the trouble in Mulayam’s family is not likely to have a bearing on the voting trend in the region stretching over 12 districts. In 2012 Assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party had won 55 seats, a good strike rate of 80 percent. The strike rate is likely to get better with the Congress not dividing upper caste votes. However, a lot depends on votes of both the parties getting transferred to each other. The BSP is banking on the Dalit-Muslim combination plus a small chunk of upper caste votes. It was the runner up in as many as 44 seats last time, and the margin of loss was close in some constituencies.

A good performance for Akhilesh’s party would depend how voters perceive his achievements. He does not seem to be on weak ground here. “His performance has been good. There can be no doubts about that. His has been mostly a responsive government. Roads have been constructed and supply of electricity, in particular, to rural and urban areas has been his high point,” says Haider Naqvi, senior journalist. In fact, many believe that his good performance would blunt whatever disaffection he might have earned in the community because of his moves against Mulayam.

Wary of the negative perception that could have emanated from the family feud, the Yadavs are busy putting up a show of unity. Akhilesh’s wife Dimple, parliamentarian from Kanauj, campaigned extensively for sister-in-law Aparna, who is contesting from Lucknow Cantt. Aparna is the spouse of Prateek, son of Sadhana, the second wife of Mulayam. Shivpal is said to be behind this faction of the Yadav family.

In Jaswant Nagar, Mulayam campaigned for his brother Shivpal, seeking votes for the party and without mentioning the alliance with the Congress. Shivpal is known to be opposed to the alliance. Shivpal is still sulking at the treatment meted out to him by Akhilesh. Earlier, he had announced that he would form his own party after the elections.

On its home turf, the family not only has to win the seats but also has to revive its image. Results of phase three of the election would make clear whether the community has forgiven Akhilesh.

 

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