Two brothers fighting for power is the oldest story in Indian politics. All it needs for the Mahabharata to play out is a doting father, blind to an ambitious son's machinations, a brother or a cousin with parallel claims to power and a wily uncle, a Shakuni if you will, to plot a clash of ambition and egos.
Since it had the right cast of characters, Mulayam Singh Yadav's extended parivar was always a perfect setting for a political drama. The dynamics between the ageing patriarch, his brothers Shivpal and Ramgopal, and ambitious son Akhilesh were destined to lead to a war. Enter Shakuni aka Amar Singh.
Shivpal is known to be close to brother Mulayam. Within party circles, Shivpal is the grassroots man, someone who built the party from the scratch with his elder brother. He obviously thinks the Samajwadi Party is as much his own as that of others.
Ramgopal is perceived to be the face of the party outside Uttar Pradesh. Four years ago, when the Samajwadi Party won a landslide victory in the Assembly polls, he convinced his elder brother to pass on the leadership to the next generation by anointing Akhilesh as chief minister.
Gradually, from a monarchy, the party turned into a loose oligarchy, with Mulayam, Akhilesh, Shivpal and Ramgopal turning into powerful centres of influence. In spite of the various pulls and pushes from different directions, the parivar could have remained united had Mulayam remained the final court of appeal. But, Mulayam's position diminished once Akhilesh started taking independent decisions, sometimes overruling his own father and uncle Shivpal, like the reversal of the party's alliance with the Bihar Mahagathbandhan and then with Mukhtar Ansari's Quami Ekta Dal.
While Shivpal was the moving force behind the two alliances, the volte-face was credited to brother Ramgopal, who is believed to have advised Akhilesh to annul the decisions, even when they had Netaji's blessings. Thus began a struggle for control over Netaji, the SP and government whose final act is now being played out in the open with the marginalisation and ouster of Shivpal.
It is often said about Amar Singh that a rift is guaranteed when he is around, especially as an outsider meddling in the affairs of a family. Rumours abound of his role in the friction between the Ambani brothers and then the chasm between the triumvirate famously referred to as Amar, Anil (Ambani) and Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan). The troika that was once like a close-knit family, drifted apart, with Amar Singh taking potshots at Bachchan in public and blaming him for the rift among the "three brothers."
In this backdrop, Ramgopal's insinuation that the Mahabharata in the Yadav family is because of the dubious role of an outsider should be seen as an indictment of Amar Singh's role, who returned to the SP in March 2016 after spending several years out in the cold. Many blame him for triggering the family feud by advising Mulayam to replace his son with brother Shivpal as party chief. In retaliation, Akhilesh removed Shivpal from key ministries, starting a sequence of events that has now spiralled out of control.
The drama in the Yadav family is almost identical to the recent split in the Karunanidhi clan. With his wives, sons Alagiri, Stalin and daughter Kanimozhi fighting bitter turf battles, Karunanidhi was forced to defer the announcement of his successor and step up as the face of the DMK in the 2016 elections at the ripe of 92. It is widely believed that the DMK lost an election it could have won because of the divisions within the family and its inability to offer an alternative to both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha.
A similar script may play out in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party is already facing rising anti-incumbency, a spirited BJP and resurgent Mayawati. The more it appears destined to falter at the hustings, the more is the possibility that its core vote base of Muslims and Yadavs would look for winnable alternatives.
If the feud within the family continues, both the BSP and the BJP would start dreaming of poaching its voters, and also some slighted members of the Yadav family.
This may be Mahabharata. But, nobody minds having a Vibhishan in their camp before a crucial poll battle.
Remember Bihar, uncle Ram Kirpal and the 2014 Mahabharata in another Yadav family?