It was the afternoon of September 8, 2015, when the simmering discontent between then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle and powerful cabinet minister Shivpal Singh Yadav had its maiden public vent.
Shivpal, who commanded the largest number of 11 portfolios after Akhilesh with 57 departments, tactfully used the platform of a press conference at the latter’s 5, Kalidas Marg official residence in Lucknow to allege deliberate impediments laid out by the finance and forest departments (both held by Akhilesh) in the projects of the irrigation department, which he helmed.
This chasm widened in the coming weeks and months before playing out on the streets of Lucknow, the Samajwadi Party's (SP's) pocket borough of Etawah and elsewhere with their respective supporters closing ranks and accusing the other of trying to break the socialist party.
What loomed large came true, with Akhilesh replacing his father and party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav as SP president, and chacha Shivpal forming his own political outfit, the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia (PSPL) last year.
The SP has announced a pre-poll alliance with Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and shunned the Congress. Shivpal, on the other hand, has been exploring the possibility of tying up with the grand old party, stressing his outfit was open to allying with all the “secular” parties for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Shivpal, who is acknowledged as a grassroots leader, one who is adept at marshalling and motivating the foot soldiers, is credited with expanding the base of the SP at the local and district levels.
Within months of its formation, the PSPL has tied up with more than 50 smaller political parties representing different castes, communities and regions in Uttar Pradesh. It has appointed district-level presidents and committees in the state, apart from constituting different wings such as women and students.
While Shivpal and his allies are gearing up to contest all the 80 parliamentary seats in the state, his outfit is looking at fielding candidates in 60-odd constituencies outside UP, too.
In contrast, the SP is only contesting 37 seats in the state, while its partner BSP will be fighting on 38 seats, leaving 5 for the Congress (Rae Bareli and Amethi) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
Political pundits have forecast that Shivpal’s party has the potential to damage the SP’s prospects in many seats, including the party turfs of Etawah, Kannauj (from where Akhilesh is likely to contest), Mainpuri and Auraiyya, especially with Akhilesh perceptibly conceding the ground to Mayawati in the alliance, both in optics and seat sharing.
“I had even sought a pre-poll understanding with the SP, but there was no response. Now, we are working on our own road map for the coming elections,” Shivpal told Business Standard over the telephone while camping in Firozabad, from where he is likely to contest.
His PSPL is also providing a viable and respectable platform to a league of disgruntled SP leaders, feeling sidelined under Akhilesh's leadership, including former Rajya Sabha MP Bhagwati Singh, former state ministers Sharda Prasad Shukla and Shadab Fatima.
“The SP-BSP alliance is an illogical one and there is lack of trust amongst the two allies at the grassroots… Mayawati cannot be trusted and she has ditched the mandate in the past,” Shivpal observed.
Old-timers recall that in his early days, Akhilesh was almost entirely raised by Shivpal and his family, since Mulayam was largely preoccupied with the state- and national-level politics, thus having little or no time for ‘Tipu’ during his adolescence.
During the previous Mayawati rule (2007-12), Shivpal was always seen at the forefront of mounting an attack on the BSP government, both inside and outside the legislature as the leader of the Opposition, while Akhilesh worked to up the youth quotient of the party with his ‘cycle yatras’ in the state.
The bonhomie, perhaps, sustained its first dent when Mulayam proposed and insisted on anointing Akhilesh as CM after the SP scored an impressive victory in the 2012 Assembly polls, cornering 224 of the 403 seats.
Meanwhile, Shivpal has hit the ground hard to galvanise his outfit’s cadres into a fighting fit formation. “Shivpalji has addressed meetings at 250 Assembly constituencies across UP. We have constituted party units in other states, including Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Soon, we will have party units in nine other states, such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana,” said Deepak Mishra, PSPL spokesperson .