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Scent of Mulayam family soap opera brewing in Azamgarh

If Mainpuri is Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “dil” (heart), Azamgarh is the “dhadkan” (heartbeat).

The Samajwadi Party has spread this saying in Azamgarh, the second constituency Mulayam is fighting from in these elections.

Mainpuri, in west-central Uttar Pradesh and not far from his home village, Saifai, is the Samajwadi chief’s other seat that voted on April 24.

Mulayam had to constantly assure voters that if he won from both, he would keep Azamgarh, 96km east of Varanasi. The bazaar gossip was that he was “warming up” Azamgarh for his other son, Prateek, who is Akhilesh Yadav’s stepbrother from Mulayam’s second wife, Sadhna Gupta.

Prateek, a fitness freak, has nonetheless exhibited his political inclination time and again. In 2013, a show of strength by Azamgarh’s Samajwadis outside Mulayam’s Lucknow residence to demand that Prateek must be their next Lok Sabha representative was believed to have been orchestrated by Sadhna, who is reportedly keen that her son, too, must get a share of the Yadav family’s political spoils.

The move had been quickly scotched by Mulayam’s cousin and Rajya Sabha MP Ramgopal Yadav. But Sarla, wife of Mulayam’s brother and Uttar Pradesh minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, is learnt to have kept prodding Sadhna to get Prateek into politics and shape him into a countervail against Akhilesh, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and his wife Dimple, the incumbent MP from Kannauj.

There may be a grain of truth to this because despite a big demand from Azamgarh’s Samajwadis for Dimple to canvass for her father-in-law, she stayed away. “If Dimpleji was here, the ambience would have been transformed,” claimed a local Samajwadi.

The Yadav “parivar’s” power play has the elements of a soap opera. Akhilesh and Dimple have got Ramgopal, an emerging power centre unto himself, on their side to foil the designs of Sadhna and Sarla. A couple of days ago, Ramgopal had issued a statement that said Mulayam would not “abandon” Azamgarh for anyone, if he was elected. “He had to say it to consolidate Mulayam’s votes,” said an Azamgarh Samajwadi office-bearer.

Mulayam has also invoked his “deep-seated” links with one of Azamgarh’s oldest Socialist leaders, Ish Dutt Yadav, to convince voters that his heart really beats for the place.

Ish Dutt Yadav is no more. “But he is held in high esteem by people here, Hindus and Muslims. He was in jail with ‘Netaji’ (Mulayam) during the Emergency. When ‘Netaji’ was down on his luck (in the early ’90s when the BJP was dominant in Uttar Pradesh), Ish Duttji was the only one on his side,” said Harish Chand Yadav, the Samajwadi’s Azamgarh city vice-president.

However, going by the mood and the caste arithmetic, Mulayam will need a lot more than just his heartbeats and old associations to pull himself through.

The numbers should have ensured Azamgarh was a cakewalk for Mulayam. It is dominated by the Yadavs and Muslims and has an inconsiderable upper caste presence. Yet, the sitting MP of the BJP, Ramakant Yadav, has created on paper a formidable coalition of the forward castes, a big slice of the Yadavs and non-Yadav backward castes and the non-Jatav Dalits to bounce back in the fight. All this without the overweening presence of the “Narendra Modi wave”.

“Here it is Modi plus Ramakant, 50-50,” claimed the candidate’s poll manager, Chandrabhan Yadav.

The BJP has plucked out a purported statement Mulayam had made at the start of his campaign to try and establish that “Netaji’s” loyalty lay with Mainpuri and not Azamgarh. “He said Mainpuri is my place of birth. What does it show? It shows that Azamgarh is Mulayam Singhji’s stepchild,” Chandrabhan alleged.

Yet the “stepchild” has received inordinate attention and even largesse from the Akhilesh government, despite its potential to drive a breach in the Yadav “grahasti” (household): a new hospital, a girls’ college, a medical college, a flyover and roads constructed shortly before the elections were announced.

Would the goodies swing the votes for Mulayam?

“It’s a tough call,” said homeopath Rajkumar Maurya. “Ramakant Yadav is easily accessible. On a given day, he feeds at least a thousand people at his house. All of us have his phone number and he takes calls personally. Mulayam Singh is a big leader and won’t be easily approachable, except through his lackeys. Even they won’t easily oblige us. Why replace a tried and trusted representative like Ramakant for an unknown person?”

At Anwarganj village, Toofani Yadav, a dairy farmer, said what quite a few other Yadavs did about Mulayam. “The Samajwadi has four of the five MLAs in Azamgarh and yet not one of them has done anything for us. Maybe the funds come in from Lucknow and get swallowed here. Yadavs like me feel let us give the BJP a chance this time because supporting the Samajwadi or (Mayawati’s) BSP is like supporting the Congress. We don’t want the Congress again in Delhi.”

Unlike in parts of west and central Uttar Pradesh, where the BSP’s core Jatav votes had also tilted towards the BJP, at Azamgarh, the Jatavs were clear on who they wanted. “We want to see Mayawatiji as our PM. She is the only leader who recognises that even small persons like me can have a stake in the system,” said Ram Sagar, a construction worker.

Mayawati’s largely unshakeable Dalit base has made the BSP an attractive option for Muslims. In Azamgarh, Muslims are caught between pragmatism and an “emotive bonding” with the Samajwadi Party.