Under pressure, Mulayam Singh Yadav is known to crack up or fight back. In the 12 seats that vote on Thursday in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party chief is doing a bit of both.
As the “Narendra Modi” effect threatens to overwhelm large parts of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam has been combative wherever his Yadav base appears to be largely intact. But wherever the Yadavs seem to be deserting him, the Samajwadi chief has been betraying signs of desperation.
Mulayam’s opponents knew he had it coming when the Election Commission show-caused him for allegedly warning shiksha mitras (contract teachers) that if they didn’t muster votes for his party, they risked losing their jobs.
On April 3, addressing a rally in Bulandshahr that voted in the first phase in western Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam reportedly urged these shiksha mitras, whose appointments had been lately confirmed, to “show their gratitude” by voting for his candidate.
The commission, in its notice, reminded Mulayam that he could not abuse his official position while campaigning.
The teachers apparently weren’t the only target of the Samajwadis.
At Hamirpur village in west Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal Lok Sabha seat that voted on April 17, ration-shop vendors were told their licences would be cancelled if they didn’t organise votes for the Samajwadi Party.
Sambhal was once a captive Samajwadi constituency that had variously elected Mulayam and his cousin, Ramgopal Yadav. It looked shaky this time because the Samajwadi’s nominee, Shafiqur Rehman Barq, is a defector from arch-rival Bahujan Samaj Party.
Barq, who won from Sambhal in 2009, had figured out that the BSP’s Dalit-Jatavs would reject him this time. Local residents claimed each time a Dalit-Jatav had asked for help in the past five years, he had turned him away.
Never a safe seat for the BJP, its candidate, Satpal Saini, a low-key Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, squeezed himself into the fray and then pretty much ensconced himself, thanks to the “Modi wave”, giving the BSP and the Samajwadi troubled nights.
Ishrat Hussain, a BSP worker at Hamirpur village, rued that whatever chance his party had of spiriting away the Muslim votes were “gone” because of the Samajwadi’s alleged intimidation. “The ration dealers paid big bribes to procure licences. Many of them are Muslims. If the administration suspects them of double-dealing, their licences could be rescinded,” said Hussain.
Firozabad, 68km from Agra, was enveloped in a sheath of silence. Barring the Yadavs, few spoke, afraid that a slip of the tongue could anger the Samajwadis or the administration.
Ramgopal Yadav’s son Akshay is the Samajwadi candidate who has ploughed the political ground over the past two years with all kinds of public works. “There is no fight here,” declared father Ramgopal. “It’s 80 per cent Samajwadi and 20 per cent the others.”
Outside a brick kiln at Shikohabad, barely 11km from Firozabad, Ramesh Yadav, the proprietor said: “It’s a matter of our prestige. Mulayam Singhji was born in Itoli, a next-door village.”
However, in 2009, the same Firozabad, that had elected Mulayam’s son Akhilesh in the Lok Sabha election, spurned Akhilesh’s wife Dimple five months later in a by-election. Akhilesh, who also won from Kannauj, kept that seat, convinced Firozabad would embrace his spouse. The Congress’s Raj Babbar won a spectacular victory.
“Our rationale was simple. All the non-Yadavs ganged up against the Samajwadi because we sincerely believed Babbar would do good work like he had in Agra (which he earlier represented in Parliament). The Yadavs were also indifferent to Dimple,” a glassware manufacturer of Makhanpur said.
This time too in several villages, the non-Yadavs said they would vote for the BJP, not so much because of Modi but “to teach the Samajwadi a lesson”.
They spoke of various provocations, from Mulayam and his confidant Azam Khan’s contentious statements on rapists and Kargil to the party “openly favouring” the Yadavs and Muslims.
But chief among them was what Puneet Bansal, a software vendor, described as “Samajwadi terror”. “We cannot open our mouths in front of the Yadavs. So we will get back at them through our votes. Once the Samajwadi loses a prestigious seat like this one, it will, hopefully, be chastened,” Bansal said.
Sambhal voted on April 17; Firozabad votes on April 24