The unthinkable has happened in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, after repeatedly castigating his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav on issues related to governance, has made it clear that if it comes to political expediency, he would choose brother over son.
For those who never get tired of accusing Mulayam of falling in the trap of putra moh (love for the son) it is a bolt from the blue, since it exposes one big facet of the patriarch’s personality – rules of politics are unbending and sons cannot go far if parents do not allow them to.
On several occasions in the last three years Mulayam had criticised Akhilesh’s style of working, including his handling of bureaucrats, party workers, ministers and people’s grievances. But what he did on Independence Day at a function in Lucknow was unprecedented. He said his brother Shivpal Yadav had been feeling uneasy in the party, he had complained of officers, party leaders and others not listening to him, and that Shivpal had offered to resign in case things continued like this. Mulayam then went on to say that the Samajwadi Party would fall apart if Shivpal left, and Akhilesh must take steps to put things in order.
A day earlier, Shivpal had vented out his anguish at a function in Mainpuri, when he had said he was pained at party workers grabbing land, and the establishment or the police not handling people’s grievances properly.
Incidentally, differences of opinion between Akhilesh and Shivpal have come up on several occasions. Notable among these is the choice of official to be appointed as the state’s chief secretary after Alok Ranjan’s term ended, and the postponement of Qaumi Ekta Dal’s (QED) merger with the SP. While in the first case it was Shivpal’s choice that prevailed, in the second case Akhilesh managed to have the last word. Apparently, Shivpal has been sulking ever since the QED fiasco as it involved a lot of efforts on his part to bring the outfit comprising Mukhtar Ansari and Afzal Ansari to the SP’s fold, and the cancellation of the merger had led to huge embarrassment – if not humiliation – for Shivpal.
Now, with the showdown becoming public, there are reports that the QED merger chapter could be reopened and it might eventually take place despite Akhilesh’s very public criticism of the move in the first place.
If that happens, it could be very difficult for Akhilesh to keep up a smiling face, and his only response could well be that “father knows best.”
Coming at a time when Assembly elections are only a few months away, those in the party owing allegiance to Akhilesh and Shivpal, are jittery. The youth brigade in Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha and Lohia Vahini appear solidly behind Akhilesh, but then Mulayam has very openly said that election tickets would only be finalised by him. Those enjoying the patronage of Shivpal but sidelined by Akhilesh would only feel stronger, and the same could be true otherwise.
Already, a very senior officer Pravir Kumar, given the charge of Noida, Greater Noida and Yamuna Expressway Authority a month ago, has been shifted from these prized posts and given a relatively less powerful position. Kumar was known to be Akhilesh’s choice for chief secretary but the post had gone to Deepak Singhal, backed by Shivpal.
More such moves involving the bureaucracy and party positions are likely in the coming days as strategic positions are fortified in the run-up to the 2017 election. Whether the chief minister would sulk, revolt or grin-and-bear-it, is something that would be clear in the coming days.
As the head of the first family of Uttar Pradesh politics for more than two decades, Mulayam has evolved a system of maintaining the balance of power among brothers, sons, cousins, nephews and other relatives. They enjoy their positions as MPs, MLAs, MLCs, heads of local bodies and others on elected or nominated positions in UP only because of Mulayam’s farsightedness. Years ago, when Mulayam was a firebrand socialist leader in the state, his brothers were still either studying or trying to find their place in their chosen vocation. It is to the credit of Mulayam alone that he not only consolidated his own political career with a mix of ideologically-driven associations but also with alliances with selected political figures. In such a situation, Mulayam is not exaggerating when he says that Shivpal has remained in the party on his (Mulayam’s) insistence. Being an aggressive and temperamental individual that he is, Shivpal could well have moved on to carve out his political highway.
For Akhilesh, any political position other than UP’s chief ministership is difficult to imagine. Although comparisons with the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are obvious but Akhilesh started off on a stronger note, with his first major assignment being heading a huge government for a huge state. But while Rahul may have had the luxury of remaining the contender for the number one post despite all shortcomings mainly on the strength of his party, Akhilesh may have little support from within the party – or family – once his party is out of power in UP. Recent history has shown that mighty ex-CMs do not like working as mere members of state Assemblies or as leader of Opposition once they are out of power: They move to Parliament.
Any disturbance in the balance of power is likely to have repercussions outside UP since the family extensions now reach other states also. For the family, being in power in UP means much more than Samajwadi Party in UP alone. Delicate balances may become upset in Bihar too.
Incidentally, politician sons of heavyweight politicians, be it Karunanidhi and his two sons in Tamil Nadu, late YS Reddy and his son in Andhra Pradesh, Farooq Abdullah and his son in Jammu and Kashmir, or even Deve Gowda and his son in Karnataka, have never been able to outshine their fathers, or even survive untroubled in their own states. Navin Patnaik is the only exception in Odisha, but then his late father never harboured national ambitions. And Patnaik senior did not have an ambitious brother.