This was a rare occasion when the politician son did not retreat in the face of bullying from his domineering father, the patriarch of the Samajwadi Party. Quite naturally, the rarity of the occasion turned the row between uncle Shivpal Yadav and nephew Akhilesh Yadav into a high talking point in political circles.
Unfortunately, however, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s show of assertion proved to be nothing more than a blip of a disruption in the enduring political equilibrium forged by his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Things are now back to where they began two days ago.
After standing his ground against Shivpal — who earlier this week quit his party and government positions — Akhilesh, in less than 48 hours, yielded to his father’s pressure tactics. Shivpal withdrew his resignation and got his ministries back within the blink of an eye. The troublesome uncle is now also set to continue as head of Uttar Pradesh’s Samajwadi Party unit. In a seeming concession, the Chief Minister has managed to retain the power to pick the party nominees to contest next year’s assembly elections. This is no doubt an improvement from the last electoral battle when Shivpal was given the power to decide the party’s nominees.
All in all, the unexpected display of defiance by the Chief Minister ended in a whimper. Successfully cracking the whip, Mulayam has yet again established that his writ runs in the Uttar Pradesh government. Had Akhilesh broken free of his father and uncle’s strangleholds, there could have been a much-needed disruption in Samajwadi Party’s tired politics of cynical manipulation. Clearly, Akhilesh wanted Shivpal out of key positions in his party and government. But, by failing to stick to his stand and sideline Shivpal, who time and again, has been at the centre of many unsavoury controversies, the Chief Minister once again has proven how powerless he is to stand up to his father’s diktat.
At the same time Akhilesh should know that his uncle is just one of the many factors contributing to his government’s continuing infamy. How would the Chief Minister explain his utter failure to end the ever-increasing criminalisation of his party, and the proliferation of lumpen elements at all levels? That is just one of the many failures to be attributed to his government.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Akhilesh has continued to play the dangerous game of communal polarisation. The deadly Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 occurred on his watch, as did the outbreak of cult violence in Mathura three months ago, leaving 24 people dead. Throughout his over four-year tenure, Akhilesh has shown himself to be incapable of governing Uttar Pradesh.
The challenges facing his government ahead of next year’s assembly elections are indeed formidable. The Chief Minister is skating on thin ice. The present mood is a far cry from the optimism that greeted Akhilesh’s ascendancy to power in Uttar Pradesh more than four years ago. Many then pinned their hopes on the new head of government to usher in a new culture in the party, to mark a clean break with the old coterie that ran the organisation. They expected the Chief Minister to primarily focus on developing Uttar Pradesh, putting an effective law and order machinery in place.
Things however have turned out to be quite different. Not only did Akhilesh allow the old guard to rule the party, under his tutelage, the state’s law and order has nosedived, and political criminality and violence against women have increased by the day.
That Akhilesh has wasted four long years is bad enough for not just his party, but for the people of Uttar Pradesh as well. The electorally significant state has become a battleground for political parties who invest much of their energy in trying to win the state, primarily because of the large chunk of seats that Uttar Pradesh has. Given the situation, it's hardly surprising that Akhilesh’s two primary adversaries — the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party — are pulling out all stops to cash in on the many failures of the present government.
At a time when the Samajwadi Party needs a strong shot in the arm to repair its badly dented image, Shivpal’s would surely have done the Chief Minister’s own reputation some good. Now that the same old deals have been struck, and the deal-makers have found their grooves once again, the ruling party has little to cheer. And Akhilesh has much to repent.