LUCKNOW: “The Samajwadi seats have dropped to under 50” was the pronouncement by a senior Samajwadi party leader as the First Family slugged it out in full public view. This dismayed response has spread across the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh with most leaders sharing the view that the Mulayam Singh Yadav-Akhilesh Yadav feud has effectively written the SP out of the electoral map early next year.

The father-son relationship has been thinly papered over, in that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has refrained from taking on father Mulayam Singh in real words till now. Instead he has continued to refer to his father with respect, insisting that the founder of the party remains very much in command. On the ground, however, a sharp vertical line has been drawn through the party organisation with the hitherto strong organisation being pulled in two different directions. The impact is visible at the district levels where rival leaders of the party are already exchanging words, while the more silent ones are examining other options before the elections.

Mulayam Singh, brother Shivpal, and confidante Amar Singh are on the one side. On the other is Akhilesh Yadav, uncle Ram Gopal Yadav, and so far most of the party legislators who have not left the government to join the party. Mulayam Singh has also refrained, so far, from throwing his son out as the elected leader of the party in UP and sources say that this is not because of a lack of intention, but more out of the realisation that the party legislators will go with the Chief Minister and not the older brigade on the other side if the push becomes a determined shove.

The CM knows this, and is prepared to wait as he also has age on his side that his father clearly is at a disadvantage with. This election is Mulayam Singh’s last shot, as he will be close to 80 years near the Lok Sabha polls with a defeat now signaing loss of authority then.

Amar Singh is close to Mulayam Singh but in his long stint in the Samajwadi party earlier has few friends within. The strong opposition to him by Akhilesh Yadav, is shared by most SP leaders who had been fairly vocal against the authority wielded by the businessman turned politician in his earlier avatar as the ‘stick wielding’ Man Friday. This time around, Singh is keeping a low profile insofar as the media is concerned but his influence over the party supremo is visible to the entire organisation, causing visible unease all around. Mulayam Singh loyalists are finding it difficult to defend the return of Amar Singh, a major factor that has contributed for the present at least to keeping the party around Akhilesh Yadav.

The Chief Minister is seen as more popular amongst the people as well, with Mulayam Singh having lost ground substantially over the years. Although his popularity has dimmed since the last polls, Akhilesh Yadav still holds sway with the voters seeing him as more “sincere” and less cynical than his father. This is a second reason why the legislators have refused to desert him, and his father has not really pushed to replace him, not because he does not want to, but as SP leaders said, because he cannot.

The Muslim vote that has now traditionally attached itself to the Samajwadi party, over long decades, has now been shaken free. The fued between the father and the son might have the members taking sides, but insofar as the minority vote bank is concerned it has already started looking for other options. The Bahujan Samaj party and the Congress party, both are offering themselves, with the former in particular reaching out to the minorities along with the Dalits. The Congress is hopeful that its reach out to the farmers through vice president Rahul Gandhi will create a base for the party that will then attact the Muslims in significant pockets, if not across the state.

Meanwhile, Akhilesh Yadav despite having his organisational powers trimmed by his father--in that he does not have the official authority to determine candidates---is out on a personality roll. As the video below shows, the CM is now projecting himself as the leader of the state without having to share the space with his father, as has been the practice till date. This has led some of the Mulayam Singh supporters to criticise him, as being too individualistic and uncaring of his father’s sacrifices for the party, but this has not really cut ice with the younger members of the party who remain with the CM at this juncture.

Interestingly, Akhilesh Yadav while emotional, has refused to budge from his stated position that has placed him against Amar Singh directly. He has indicated, through a meeting, that he is prepared to bridge the differences with uncle Shivpal Yadav but not with the man who now SP cadres openly refer to as the ‘outsider’. The CM is seen on a strong wicket on this issue, and has now adopted the stance of a leader who is not particularly perturbed by the family fight and is instead, preparing for the elections as if all is normal. As a senior SP leader said, “this is because Akhileshji knows the Assembly elections are not the end of the road for him, but they well might be for his father and Amar Singh.”

More so, as Mulayam Singh has taken direct control over the electoral wing of the party and thus, as the sources said, will be directly responsible for the results. A defeat will hurt the older Yadav more than his son. What remains to be seen, however, is what remains finally of the Samajwadi party.