Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has for long been mocked by his political rivals and critics, rightly so it seems, by pegging him as a 'half or quarter of a chief minister'. Since 15 March, 2012, when he took oath of office as the youngest chief minister of the Hindi heartland state, he has lived with limitations of having to bear the influence and power of an all mighty father in Mulayam Singh Yadav, two overbearing uncles in Ram Gopal and Shivpal Yadav and a whimsical elder in Azam Khan.
But four months ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, where his own fate hangs in the balance, he took a bold call — enough was enough and henceforth, he would be his own man, show his mettle and build long-term credibility for himself as a leader. At least that's what he has indicated for now.
Mark Akhilesh's words spoken in times of extreme turmoil in the ruling Yadav clan and the highest echelons of his government: "Whereas the family is concerned, all abide by Netaji's (Mulayam Singh Yadav's) words. The decisions I have taken have been taken in consultation with Netaji, but at times I have taken some decisions on my own."
Though he did not elaborate on what decisions he had taken on his own, either without consulting his father or by disregarding his words, it was more than clear what he was referring to — the sacking of two ministers, Gayatri Prajapati and Rajkishore Singh, removal of Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal, and the stripping of uncle Shivpal Yadav from creamy portfolios in the PWD, irrigation and revenue, essentially demoting him to a lightweight ministry in social welfare.
Some time ago, he had gone against the wishes of his uncle and father to put a virtual veto on Samajwadi Party's merger with jailed don Mukhtar Ansari's party Quami Ekta Dal.
For once, he also let everyone know as to who is the boss in the Samajwadi government: "This is no family fight but what you see is a fight within government."
In a way Akhilesh is right, there wouldn't have been a family feud had it not been because of the power structure in the UP government. Basically the fight is over who controls the reigns in the government and whose words matter in governance or otherwise. After all, politics is about power and members of the Yadav clan know it better than anyone else. The fight within the extended Yadav family, therefore, is about remaining powerful, lest they be counted as powerless.
Interestingly, Akhilesh delivered his most punchy statement as UP chief minister during a brief but loaded media interaction with remarkable ease; his trademark smile and gentle exterior demeanour intact. He appeared to be symbolising the age-old English expression — 'when going gets tough, the tough get going'. His actions in the last two days and the words delivered on Wednesday have manifold implications, not just for the internal hierarchical structure of the Samajwadi Party and its government, but also for the UP polity.
A Samajwadi Party leader, requesting anonymity, conceded to Firstpost that "this kind of open and public fight within the first family of the party, about 100 days ahead of elections, is indicative that the leadership is not bothered about the electoral outcome in Feb-March 2017. It looks like our party bosses have conceded defeat even before the actual heat and dust of electioneering is to begin.
"In their wisdom, they think that the internal command structure within the family has to resolved first, with whatever implications. Elections can be handled later, it will come and go every five years." He however, hoped that better sense would prevail among the top leaders in the next few days.
Akhilesh now understands that if he continues to give in to the whims and fancies of his father, uncles and the lot of elders in his party, his personal prospects as a leader would be doomed. He has ruled the state for over four years and took the risk of challenging their might ahead of the Assembly elections.
As it is, SP's prospects of being voted back into power are very slim. So, it was perhaps a now or never situation for him. He struck hard and is aware that even his worst critics don't not suspect his intentions or his approach to developmental politics, but that they target him for being incapable of handing his father, uncles and elders in the party.
Ahead of 2012 Assembly elections, he had reacted sharply to stall the entry of Western UP gangster DP Yadav into the party fray. The move had instantly put him into a different league than the rest of the Yadav clan. The campaign he ran along with his father had made him an established leader in his own right.
It's a different matter altogether that when Akhilesh was running a highly-successful campaign, mobilising support particularly from younger generations, the national media broadly ignored him and remained focused on Rahul Gandhi's roadshows instead.
Lately, when Akhilesh started asserting his authority, it very obviously hit his father and uncles where it hurt the most — of being overruled by the boy in the family. Mulayam thus reacted sharply by removing son Akhilesh from the post of UP state party chief and nominated brother Shivpal to the post instead.
That was his way of showing that, "Rishte me hum tumahre baap hain, naam...," But he and other family members didn't anticipate that, in the last five years, the boy Akhilesh had turned into a man and had learnt the art of politics, adding the tricks of political wrestling to his arsenal — which he showcased by stripping his uncle off the meaty portfolios.
During election time, particularly during candidate selection, words of the party president matter the most and this is where Shivpal has an advantage over Akhilesh.
A Samajwadi Party insider said that the open family war has put all concerned at the top in a very tricky situation.
First, if Mulayam Singh rules in favour of Shivpal and forces Akhilesh to return his portfolios, then it would make the chief minister look helpless — in office but not in power.
Second, the party at this stage cannot afford Shivpal's possible resignation from the government. It will have huge bearing as there could arise a government versus party situation.
Third, if Shivpal convinces Mulayam Singh to come to Lucknow to resolve the matter, the message sent out would be that the party president believes that injustice has been done to his brother.
Fourth, if Akhilesh comes to Delhi to talk to his father, then the message sent out would be that the differences between father and son have been such that the son had to travel such a long distance to Delhi, just to talk to his father. Besides, the media would see it as Akhilesh was responding to a summon by his father.
Akhilesh has indicated that he will not be going to Delhi to speak to his father. He would rather bide his time, waiting for his next move.