Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is no Dhritarashtra. The latest turn of events in Uttar Pradesh suggest that he appears to be more beholden to his brother and interests of some others in the family than blind in affection for his son, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
By doing so, the erstwhile pehalwan wants the world and his son to know that he is the ultimate 'Bahubali' of UP politics. No one defies him, not even his otherwise beloved son.
But then Akhilesh too is no Duryodhana. He is no Yudhishtir either. He is a pragmatic young politician, entrusted with the task of ruling the Hindu heartland of UP and is the one who is reading the popular mood right – that you cannot be a winner in your own right if you don't choose the development path, look sincere in providing a government that cares for delivery of popular goods and also at times be ruthless in action, not in public demeanour, but when it looks like his authority is being challenged by a coterie of corrupt status quoists.
Akhilesh, for now, has won the first round against his father, the mighty neta ji aka Dhartiputra, both on the actual war turf and in public perception. It's a different kind of Mahabharata; a different story of intrigue about a coup, where an aging family patriarch and regent is seen to be siding with his loyalist brother than with his son.
It has no parallel in Indian political history. There has never been a leader like Mulayam, who has promoted so many other leaders not just within his immediate family but also from his extended family. He gave them a powerful office, lal-batti, and the perks and privileges associated with power. His samajwad has been a brazen parivarwad, and has been seen as equitable in distribution of power. Akhilesh now wants his own version of samajwad and parivarwad.
Mulayam's word has so far been the law in the family and the party he heads. Since Samajwadi Party is ruling in UP, and his son Akhilesh was named by him as chief minister, his word was law in the state government as well.
But neta ji erred by underestimating his own son, his ambition and ability, both as an administrator and as a politician. The son proved to be a good pupil and learnt the art of political wresting faster and better than his father had anticipated. A young obedient boy had turned into a tough man with courage and conviction to tell his father 'you are wrong and I am right, I will do what I think is right.'
Consider what Akhilesh said to Rajat Sharma of India TV on an Aap Ki Adalat episode recently: "The fight is not because of me but because of the chair (chief minister) I am occupying.
He added that before coming to the show he "went to meet netaji and told him that we will throw the outsider (read Amar Singh) who tries to come between us."
He has so far been strong and categorical in his words and deeds. He knows that as the chief minister his position should remain unchallenged. Since he is face of the party for the upcoming Assembly elections and in the government everyone, including his father and uncle Shivpal, should allow him to have his say in matters of governance and related matters in the party.
Akhilesh seems to be convinced, at least as reflected by the actions taken by him in the last few days – sacking two ministers Gayatri Prasad Prajapati and Rajkishore Singh, ousting chief secretary Deepak Singhal — that he cannot be a credible face in the immediate or long run if he allows others from the family and an "outsider" to have a free run in his government.
It was no ordinary measure when he cut his powerful uncle, Shivpal, to size. Throwing gangster DP Yadav out of the party in 2011 and putting a veto against SP's merger with dreaded criminal Mukhtar Ansari's party Quami Ekta Dal was one thing, but showing uncle Shivpal his place by stripping him of five meaty portfolios was quite another. It required a great deal of courage, conviction, and belief in self to stand against his father, uncle, named outsider, and some other family members who operate from behind.
The grapevine is full of stories revealing why Mulayam has been pushing so hard for reinstating sacked Minister Gayatri Prajapati and bureaucrat Deepak Singhal. Apart from their proximity to Shivpal, Mulayam and Amar Singh, the names of some other extended family members – who have Mulayam eyes, ears and affection – are also being considered.
Two separate press conferences held on Thursday by Akhilesh's two uncles, Ram Gopal and Shivpal Yadav, presented contrasting pictures and indicated how deep the rift ran in the family. It suggested that even if a temporary truce was achieved at within the warring factions of the family – with father and son, uncle and nephew; or Akhilesh and Ram Gopal on one hand and Mulayam, Shivpal and others on the other hand – the tensions would remain to the detriment of the family and the party's prospects thereafter.
Akhilesh represents a modern outlook and thinks that the basic forte of his politics should be developmental politics; while uncle Shivpal and father Mulayam are still caught in a time wrap of politics by brute force, criminals and identity politics of any such other kind.
It's true that his father had named him the king but then it is equally true that the mandate of the 2012 Assembly polls was because of Akhilesh. Mulayam and Shivpal obviously do not agree with the latter part. Insiders say that Shivpal had been by netaji's side since the time the latter started building the party, through thick and thin, through the good, bad and ugly, and on occasions took blame on himself to salvage his elder brother's image. Mulayam still feels beholden to his younger brother for what he did for him throughout the decades.
Akhilesh will lead a Samajwadi Vikas Yatra, on a specially built bus from 3 October, kicking off his poll campaign on a developmental plank. In the last two years, he has tried to do everything to make a name for himself and to build an image as a credible politician in the state.
Ironically, he can sustain on that image only if his father allows him to proceed with his chosen path. By resigning from all the posts — ministerial and organisational — Shivpal has pulled the trigger. His son Aditya also resigned from the chairman's post of the Pradeshik Cooperative Federation.
The onus is now on Mulayam to find a solution but from here on any acceptable solution he finds will only cut Akhilesh's image as a leader and his stature as chief minister. And about Mulayam Singh's image, who cares? He has always lived with that, the only difference being it has now come in full public knowledge.
Mulayam will go down in history as a father who didn't want his son to mature into a man. Akhilesh is apparently cut out with a different mettle.