Lucknow: As open strife in the ruling Yadav clan pushed Uttar Pradesh into political crisis, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Wednesday cancelled some official engagements, while his uncle Shivpal Yadav, who was stripped of key portfolios, said he will abide by the directions of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The SP top brass, meanwhile, swung into a damage control mode to keep the flock together ahead of the state Assembly elections, with Mulayam Singh Yadav calling Shivpal and Ram Gopal Yadav for a meeting in New Delhi.
As the state plunged into crisis, the chief minister stayed put in his 5, Kalidas Marg official residence since morning to take stock of the situation and did not attend two official engagements perhaps to avoid the media.
Amid speculation that he will resign from the Akhilesh cabinet, Shivpal said giving and taking portfolios is the discretion of the CM and he will abide by the decision of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
"It is the discretion of CM to give (or take) portfolios and remove officers and keep his advisors. I will follow Netaji's directions and will fulfill responsibilities given by him," he told reporters at Saifai, Mulayam's native village.
Asked about his future course of action, Shivpal said, "I will talk to Netaji (Mulayam). People of the state have full faith in Netaji and the Samajwadi Party." From Saifai, Shivpal flew to Delhi to meet Mulayam even as thousands of his supporters gathered outside his residence there and the PWD guest house to express solidarity with him as speculation was rife that he might resign.
The Mulayam family has been dogged by serious differences but matters reached a flash point on Tuesday after Chief Minister shunted out Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal, considered as his uncle Shivpal Yadav's favourite.
In a tit-for-tat action, Mulayam took away the post of UP Samajwadi Party chief from his son Akhilesh, perhaps to smooth the ruffled feathers of Shivpal. But, within hours a peeved chief minister hit back by clipping his uncle's wings by divesting him of his key PWD, Irrigation and Cooperative portfolios.
The crisis has come at a time when the party is in the midst of ticket distribution process and differences among its top leaders could upset the party's apple cart during the Assembly elections due early next year.
When the SP supremo had anointed his son Akhilesh as the chief minister in 2012 overlooking the claims of Shivpal, it was anyone's guess that the ruling party will face pulls and pressures very often.
It is no secret that Shivpal has harboured chief ministerial ambitions and did not take too kindly to his claims being overlooked in 2012.
To a question regarding SP's CM face for the 2017 polls, Shivpal today said it was for the party's Parliamentary Board to decide. He avoided taking the name of Akhilesh.
Akhilesh, with his youthful appeal and his promise of the SP turning over a new leaf, had played a major role in convincing the UP electorate that the lawlessness, which marked the SP's earlier tenure between 2002 and 2007, would be a thing of the past.
With Assembly polls inching closer, Akhilesh has been concentrating on sprucing up the image of his government and recently overturned the decision of his father on the merger of the Quami Ekta Dal (QED).
Shivpal was said to have shepherded the merger of gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari's QED with Samajwadi Party.
When Akhilesh publicly nixed the merger Shivpal felt he was publicly humiliated by his nephew.
QED, an eastern UP-based political party is headed by ex-SP MP Afzal Ansari, who is elder brother of Mukhtar, now in jail in connection with the murder of a BJP MLA.
Akhilesh was adamant that the merger be called off because he wanted to maintain his clean image, once he had sought to establish by opposing DP Yadav in the party before the 2012 Assembly polls. His stand had won the party political mileage after it had lost power in 2007 on poor law and order, a matter snowballing into a major poll issue this time too.
Fearing that these issues might damage SP's electoral prospects, Mulayam has of late been quite critical of corruption and land grabbing by some ministers. This prompted the chief minister to sack two of them --Mining Minister Gayatri Prajapati and Panchayati Raj Minister Raj Kishore Singh -- recently in an exercise to come out as "Mr Clean".
The image of his government took a hit so much so that BJP president Amit Shah kept saying at public meetings that UP is run by three-and-a-half CMs — Akhilesh, Shivpal and Mulayam besides Azam Khan. Recently, Mulayam gave a stern warning to Akhilesh that the party would split into factions if Shivpal chose to walk away after the senior cabinet minister threatened to resign claiming that his repeated pleas to root out corruption was going unheeded.
Analysts say fragmentation of the vote bank will be of no help to the Yadav clan. As of now, all eyes are on Mulayam, who is huddled in a meeting with senior party leaders in Delhi for a patch-up between "chacha-bhatija (uncle-nephew)".
The internal tussles within the SP has also given fuel to opposition BSP to target it.
BSP chief Mayawati recently urged the Election Commission to declare the state elections early -- by January-February next year, arguing that the family feud within the ruling SP and "jungleraj" in UP would lead to chaos in governance in coming months and cause difficulty in holding "independent, impartial and peaceful" elections in view of "infighting within the first family".