So this is what happened:
It is war in the Yadav camp. Sharp differences in the Yadav family were open on Tuesday as Akhilesh shunted out Chief Secretary Deepak Singhal, considered close to Shivpal, barely two months after his appointment. This set off a chain of developments that saw the SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav ousting his son as the state party chief and replacing him with Shivpal.
Hours after Mulayam made his brother and senior cabinet minister the UP unit head of the ruling party, in an angry retort, Akhilesh clipped his uncle's wings by stripping him of the plum PWD, irrigation, cooperatives, flood control, land development and water resources, wasteland development, revenue, disaster relief and rehabilitation, and public service management portfolios.
"Singhal has been removed and put on wait list. Principal Secretary (Finance) Rahul Bhatnagar has been made new Chief Secretary," an official spokesman said in Lucknow.
Though no reason was cited, the SP insiders said the chief minister was not happy with him as he had attended a dinner hosted by the SP Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh in Delhi which Akhilesh gave a miss. Mulayam and some other top party leaders were present at the dinner.
Differences between Akhilesh and Shivpal have been reported on several occasions, including on the choice of official to be appointed as the state's chief secretary after Alok Ranjan's term ended, and stalling of Qaumi Ekta Dal's (QED) merger with the SP. Shivpal was said to have shepherded the merger of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari's QED with the SP.
Singhal was earlier Principal Secretary (Irrigation), a department held by Shivpal. Hours after Singhal was eased out as the state's top bureaucrat, Mulayam's cousin and the SP general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav wrote to Shivpal, "SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav has appointed you as the president of the Uttar Pradesh unit. It is hoped that with your hard work, you will further strengthen the party."
A copy of the letter was also marked to Akhilesh. Not to take it lying down, the chief minister immediately divested his uncle of key departments, keeping with himself the PWD portfolio and giving irrigation to minister Awadhesh Prasad and revenue and cooperatives to Balram Yadav, an official release on Tuesday night said.
Shivpal, who is now left with land development, water resources and social welfare ministries, is likely to resign from the cabinet. Though there was no official word from him, sources in the party said he was most likely to tender his resignation on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, political circles were abuzz with talk of a possible split within the Samajwadi Party with the party honchos making no effort to hide an obvious infighting.
Samajwadi Party and the Yadav camp, however, is not new to these infightings. In fact, when Akhilesh Yadav met with the press to issue a statement on the ongoing power tussle, he refused to admit that there were any problems in the “family”.
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) September 14, 2016
In fact, the 44-year-old chief minister was defiant as he said, "I take some decisions, Neta ji (Mulayam) takes others."
Trouble has been brewing in the Yadav camp for a while now, given the sour relationship between Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh’s brother Shivpal. In August, following a nasty public spat, party supremo Mulayam tried to step in and the media was told all is well in the family. However, Mulayam quite blatantly sided with brother Shivpal.
“While he (Shivpal) is busy doing his job honestly and efficiently, a conspiracy is afoot against him and responsible people in the government are humiliating him,” Hindustan Times quoted Mulayam as saying in August. "But if Shivpal quits, the party will go to winds," Mulayam added.
The problem, many political observers have noted, is the generation gap within the party. While Mulayam wants to teach Akhilesh the valuable lesson that an electoral win will happen only if the party survives, Akhilesh wants to drive the point home that development and honest policing is what the UP government is all about. Like Ambikanand Sahay points out in this article, the generation gap is so wide within the family (and the party) that not only do the key players think differently, they even act separately. “Blood is the only thing that unites them. Nothing else.”
It becomes extremely tough for Akhilesh as well to run a government where his father and uncles hold the power reins in their hands. When Akhilesh assumed the CM’s office, the cabinet was staffed with Mulayam’s loyalists.
"The principal secretary to CM, Rakesh Garg, and secretary to CM, Anita Singh, had both served in Mulayam's Pancham Tal as well. Mulayam even deputed his long-time personal security officer Shiv Kumar with Akhilesh. However, in the past two years, Akhilesh has brought in many officers of his choice to Pancham Tal," a report in The Economic Times said.
But with Shivpal being stripped off crucial cabinet portfolios, Akhilesh is sending a message to all his detractors and his family that he, as the chief minister, does not live in anyone’s shadow and will not compromise on crucial issues like law and order and corruption.
“By removing ministers and the chief secretary, Akhilesh has tried to send out a message before the polls that he is the CM and the only centre of power in the government and that he has the courage to take tough decisions,” a SP leader was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election around the corner, Akhilesh does not want the party’s name to be mired with controversial people like Deepak Singhal, who is said to be close to former SP leader Amar Singh. Akhilesh is not very comfortable with Shivpal’s closeness to Amar Singh as well.
Reporting for DailyO, Sharat Pradhan wrote that Singhal, on more occasion than one, bypassed the CM and went ahead with rather 'shady' deals. For example, he allotted 450 acres of land in Greater Noida "at a throwaway price to Baba Ramdev" for setting up a giant Patanjali unit. The move did not go down quite well with Akhilesh. In fact, Singhal’s family member was rewarded a multi-billion distributionship of Patanjali products after the deal.
Since Akhilesh’s accession to the CM post in 2012, one of his biggest problems has been in managing his father and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam. Akhilesh and Mulayam’s politics are very different. Mulayam, being a war horse, tries to tell his son that elections are won by people and not officers while Akhilesh seems to be trying really hard to shut his detractors up by trying to fix the law and order situation in the state.
And at a time when the state Assembly elections, which is being touted as the biggest political event of 2017, is already approaching fast, the party needs to maintain the semblance of holding things together.