Lucknow: Call it a showdown or a show of strength, the stage is set for Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's 'Vikas Rath Yatra' to be flagged off on Thursday by SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, where Shivpal Yadav is likely to be present to send a message of unity in the ruling party.
"All arrangements have been made. The yatra will be flagged off by 'Netaji' (Mulayam) and senior party leaders, party state president Shivpal Yadav will also remain present," MLC Sunil Yadav Sajan, who is close to Akhilesh, told PTI.
Sajan, who is also incharge of first leg of the yatra, said at every second kilometre, the CM will be welcomed and he will also address gatherings at various locations.
Last month, Shivpal had expelled Sajan, considered close of Akhilesh, from the party.
The supporters of both Akhilesh and Shivpal factions are keeping an eye on the development and the entire route of yatra is dotted with hoardings, banners and colourful arches to welcome the 'Vikas Sey Vijay Tak' rath yatra starting from here.
A hoarding put up by a youth leader close to Shivpal says "Shivpal kahey dil se, Akhilesh ka abhishek phir se" (Shivpal says from his heart to make Akhilesh CM again), while some others only highlight Akhilesh's achievements.
"The hoardings put up by the leaders show the state of confusion in the party. It's visible on roads. We wish this confusion to end with the start of this yatra," a senior SP leader said.
A cavalcade of over 5,000 SUVs and trucks will seek to send a message to the party leadership that 43-year-old Akhilesh is the "most acceptable" face of SP.
The pro-CM camp, which has expelled SP leaders, is working overtime to make it one of the biggest political shows of recent times, coming close on the heels of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's month-long Deoria-to-Delhi 'kisan yatra'.
Another gala event is scheduled for Saturday to mark SP's silver jubilee.
Seeking to cobble together a 'mahagathbandhan', Mulayam has sent out invitations to all "secular and like-minded" leaders of various parties like RJD and JD-U.
But, chances of these leaders making it to the event appeared remote since the date clashes with 'Chhath Puja', a major festival in Bihar.
Last week, Mulayam's younger brother and state SP chief Shivpal had met JD(U) leader KC Tyagi and RLD chief Ajit Singh to invite them to the anniversary bash in Lucknow.
Shivpal had said Lohiaites and followers of Charan Singh should join hands to beat BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
Samajwadi Party, which was initially part of Bihar's grand alliance, had walked out of it after it was offered only a handful of seats to contest the assembly elections there.
The grand alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress had, however, scripted a glorious electoral victory, defeating the BJP-led NDA.
Shivpal had recently blamed his estranged cousin Ram Gopal Yadav for Samajwadi Party's decision to walk out of the alliance in Bihar.
Ram Gopal, a Rajya Sabha member, has been backing Akhilesh in his fight against Shivpal. Ram Gopal was recently sacked from the party amid escalating tension between the rival camps.
Given the unusual belligerence shown by Akhilesh, the party apparently wants to fortify its position by bringing in new friends.
SP's main aim in the polls is to prevent split of Muslim votes for which it is looking for an alliance with "secular" parties.
Congress' poll strategist Prashant Kishor yesterday held a two-hour meeting with Mulayam, who is trying to cobble together an alliance of like-minded parties.
Kishor, along with SP leader Amar Singh, met Yadav at his Delhi residence, apparently to discuss the possibility of an alliance before the poll dates are announced.
Akhilesh, who ruled out parting ways with Samajwadi Party in the wake of the unprecedented family feud, has said he will participate in the silver jubilee event, though a large number of his loyalists are likely to boycott the show in view of the strife in the party.