With the battle lines for presidency now clearly drawn between the ruling NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind and the opposition parties’ Meira Kumar, it remains to be seen which way the Samajwadi Party will swing. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who was present at the meeting where Meira Kumar’s name was approved, may have signalled his preference, but will he able to convince his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, whom he supplanted as party chief. Mulayam has already termed Kovind a “dear friend” and a “wonderful candidate” for president. Mulayam Singh was also the only opposition leader to have gone to the official dinner hosted by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow in honour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and has been cosying up to the BJP leadership of late.
Also, he did not campaign for SP candidates in the assembly elections and ending up confusing the voters. That, political observers say, helped the BJP. His younger son Prateek and daughter-in-law Aparna have made no bones about their admiration for Modi and the BJP in the past. Though they have called their meetings with Adityanath or selfies with Modi a “personal matter”, these moves have created a suspicion in the SP.
But how much weightage does Mulayam Singh have in the party and how many lawmakers are with him? That’s not immediately clear. Political observers feel that based on past experience, Akhilesh Yadav would side with Meira Kumar for more than two reasons. First, he would like to reiterate that he has the final say in the party despite the debacle in the assembly polls this year and, secondly, to express solidarity with the Congress, with which he jointly contested the polls.
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On more than three occasions after the poll drubbing, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister has reiterated his desire not to leave the alliance with the Congress and has called it a “friendship for long”. Pushed to the sidelines of politics in the state for now, he is, say insiders, frantically looking for some “room” to salvage his lost pride. He is also learnt to be not averse to sharing the dais with arch rival Mayawati as the two are set to share the stage at RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s mega rally in Patna in August.
Lalu Prasad has been trying to bring the two warring leaders together for a grand alliance before the 2019 general election to stop the BJP juggernaut. Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to side with the Congress candidate for president, though unlikely to make much difference on Kovind’s chances, is likely to consolidate SP’s position in the opposition camp as a “dependable ally”. With the BJP comfortably ensconced in UP with a brute majority, aides say Akhilesh Yadav is also eyeing a national role if it comes his way. The presidential election will be his first testing point.