The family bickering in the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) has put a spanner in the plans to form a coalition with the Congress party and Rashtriya Lok Dal in India's Uttar Pradesh (UP) for the state assembly polls. Those in the know, however, say it all depends on the Election Commission's verdict on whether it's advantage Akhilesh Yadav, current chief minister of UP, or the wily trio of his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, uncle Shivpal Yadav and party leader Amar Singh.
"The internal fight in SP needs to be sorted out first before talk about the two parties coming together can be formalised. Everybody in SP and Congress can see the truth -- Akhilesh Yadav is the winning candidate -- except for his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar Singh (SP leader) and Akhilesh's uncle, Shivpal Yadav," said a Congress politician, who did not want to be named.
Hoardings with photographs of Akhilesh's wife, Dimple Yadav, and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, have come up in some parts of the state, stoking hopes of the coalition.
Mulayam Singh Yadav founded SP and was its president before his authority was challenged and virtually upended by his son, Akhilesh Yadav, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in a bitter family rivalry that is threatening to split the party in the middle.
Akhilesh has claimed majority support among SP legislators and has staked claim to the party chief's position and election symbol, the bicycle, failing which he is expected to float his own party.
"Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal is also with us – so we are assured of about 20 per cent of the votes from the rural Jat community that forms his voter base," the Congress politician added. Singh is an influential politician in western UP that is often referred to as the Jat belt due to the dominant presence of the largely agrarian community.
Discussions about a secular joint front to contain the Bharatiya Janata Party's ambitions of forming a government in the state have been on for a while at the "highest levels in SP and Congress" with reports of a joint campaign being launched by Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, along with Akhilesh and Dimple, doing the rounds for a couple of months.
The group led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, however, is perceived to be more inclined to the BJP and averse to an open arrangement with the Congress.
"Right now our main focus is on maintaining a united front as far as the party is concerned," said a Samajwadi Party (SP) functionary considered close to Mulayam Singh Yadav, refusing to comment on any truck with the Congress.
Both groups are now waiting for the EC's decision on the party's election symbol.
"Akhilesh may not get the bicycle symbol as it is contested. He may not even get the 'motorcycle' symbol as it is already allotted to a party from south India. But this will not be a setback for him," said the Congress politician.
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav had both declared their versions of the party's list of candidates for the 403-seat UP assembly. Both groups have taken the fight to India's Election Commission that will give a ruling on the party symbol and leadership soon.
The Congress party's political fortune had been flagging of late and it has been hopeful of a coalition with SP that is in power in UP, India's most populous state, that is considered key to dominating the national Parliament.
Although a regional election, UP is crucial even for national players like the BJP and Congress as the number of constituencies any party rules in the state, home to 204 million, has a bearing on the number of seats allotted to it at least in the Upper House of Indian Parliament or the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP notched up 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha, or Lower House seats, in the Indian national elections held in 2014 – giving it an undeniable edge in the upcoming polls.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by former chief minister Mayawati also remains a crucial factor. Before the emergence of the BJP in the 2014 elections, the BSP was considered the only option to SP in Uttar Pradesh.
"If the coalition comes through – we can contain Mayawati to 60-70 seats," hoped the Congress man.