The former head of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, lost a battle against his son Monday for the rights to use the ruling party’s name, a turning point in a bitter family feud that has dominated national headlines.
Mulayam Singh Yadav last week petitioned India’s election commission to claim the name and coveted bicycle symbol of the Samajwadi Party, after being toppled as party president by his 43-year-old son, Akhilesh Yadav.
The right to use the bicycle logo in crucial state elections next month is key; pictorial symbols remain the most potent medium to connect with millions of voters in India, many of whom are illiterate.
“Akhilesh Yadav is the Samajwadi Party and is entitled to use its name and its reserved symbol bicycle for the purposes of the election symbols,” the commission said in its order.
It said Akhilesh — who was named party president by a majority vote and is also the state’s chief minister — had the support of 4,716 of the party’s 5,731 delegates. The order sparked celebrations outside the party office in the state capital of Lucknow.
It is unclear whether Akhilesh’s 77-year-old father and mentor Mulayam, who founded the party in 1992, will start a new party to contest the upcoming elections.
Mulayam, a wrestler-turned-politician, previously served three terms as the state’s chief minister before nominating his Australian-educated son for the post in 2012.
Akhilesh became the youngest-ever chief minister thanks to his soaring popularity among younger voters, who elected him on promises of more jobs and a greater share in India’s economic growth.
Mulayam continued to lead the socialist party and is a member of Lok Sabha — India’s lower house of parliament.
But the veteran politician expelled his son and brother in December, accusing them of “weakening the party,” prompting Akhilesh to seize control days later.
Uttar Pradesh, with a population of more than 200 million, is a critical political player, sending the biggest single bloc of lawmakers to the 545-seat national parliament.
It will go to the polls in February, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party hoping to claw back power there in what would be a key boost to his chances for re-election in 2019.