A fortnight ago when the Election Commission handed over the cycle symbol and the party presidency to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, the bitter and protracted feud in the ruling establishment was expected to have ended.
On Sunday evening, as the party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav publicly trashed the alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress, the fragile peace seemed shattered once again. And so, while the rumblings in the party were far from over even as leaders owing allegiance to Mulayam were privately expressing their resentment over the "unceremonious" change of guard, the knives are now out in the open. The old guard in the party seems to be readying to strike back.
Senior party veterans Ambika Chowdhary and Narad Rai have switched to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) citing "humiliation and suffocation" the in SP, a party they pointed out meant everything to them not so long ago. Chowdhary, who was one of the founding members of the party in 1992, openly castigated Akhilesh Yadav for "heaping slight on his father Mulayam and his supporters".
"I am left with no option but to leave the SP with a heavy heart as the new leadership has no regard for seniors. When the father means nothing to the chief minister, who are we," he asked with disdain last week as he sat with BSP supremo Mayawati, who assured the eastern UP strongman "more respect and honour in BSP than he ever got in the SP".
Narad Rai, who was axed by Akhilesh from his cabinet twice in a span of a few weeks also joined the BSP on Sunday and alleged that "Akhilesh treated him worse than a servant". He also expressed his anguish at the treatment meted out to Mulayam by his chief minister son.
Shadab Fatima, another minister sacked by Akhilesh and denied ticket, on Sunday took out a road show in her constituency though she has been denied the party ticket. She claimed to have "Neta-ji's blessings" and of working after a go-ahead from the Yadav senior, now a mere 'mentor' in the party he founded 25 years ago.
Madhukar Jaitley, an MLC close to Mulayam, is sullen at the recent developments in the party, openly rebuking Akhilesh Yadav for "usurping power" through unscrupulous ways and getting the better in the technical battle over party symbol.
On way to meet the party 'mentor' in New Delhi, Jaitley vowed to be by Mulayam's side "till his funeral pyre". The man credited with bringing home the idea of Lucknow Metro, he also punched a few holes in the Congress-SP alliance. "Now that Neta ji has trashed it, there is no way that the alliance can get any sympathy from either the Yadav's or the Muslims" he said reminding one of the Mulla Mulayam sobriquet earned by the three-time Chief Minister after he ordered firing on Kar Sevaks in Ayodhya in the 1990s.
Mulayam, on his part, has already called the SP-Congress alliance "against his will and advice" and has alleged that it was stitched to "grab power" giving a go-by to the party's principles and to the aspirations of lakhs of workers.
Chinks in the party are also surfacing in some pockets, with a section owing allegiance to the Mulayam-Shivpal camp coming out in the open against the Chief Minister.
Raghuraj Singh Shakya, the party legislator from Etawah, the home belt of the Yadavs, has opened a front against the 43-year-old Chief Minister and has openly sided with Mulayam. Even Shivpal Singh Yadav, who quietly suffered humiliation is now "coming out of the closet".
On Sunday, not only did he visit a party office opened in the name of Mulayam in Chowgurji area of Etawah by Mulayam's supporters but also extended his support to the faction by saying that he along with them was a Mulayam supporter and would do anything at his direction. Sources told IANS that in the next few days, Mulayam may spring a surprise or two on his son.
This may include Mulayam asking his son not to use his name and pictures in publicity material used by the SP. "We are assessing the situation and would spell out the strategy at the earliest" a Mulayam loyalist informed. With electioneering already underway, this might spike the chances of the SP, which under Akhilesh Yadav is trying to return to power on basis of the work done in the past five years as also the alliance with the Congress.
The outcome will only be known on March 11, when the EVM's pop out the results of a keenly and bitterly fought state assembly elections spread across in seven phases between February 11 and March 8.