For Akhilesh Yadav, the embattled chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and once the sole legatee of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Muslim-backward vote bank, the last few months have been incomparably volatile. Back in September, Akhilesh was riding high--his image remodelled, his brand reinvented as a youthful, energetic “vikas purush”, his tumultuous tenure coming a full circle. He was being propelled by six big-ticket development projects that were on the verge of being rolled out before the 2017 assembly elections. And he was being assisted by the fact that his opponents seemed unable to conjure up either the magic or the face needed to carry an assembly poll in India’s most populous state.
In a fight between an incumbent Akhilesh rising in popularity after a 2014 Lok Sabha disaster and a BSP chief Mayawati struggling to keep her flock together, the odds were stacked in his favour. As they were against a Congress party too far down the pecking order to mount a serious challenge and a BJP sorely missing a local stalwart who could stake his claim as the next chief minister.
Three months later, how the mighty are fallen. Not because of anything done by his opponents, though the surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September and the demonetisation decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November did make the electoral turf more unpredictable, but because of a glorious implosion within the Samajwadi Party that keeps getting sparked, rekindled and detonated. It seemed to culminate on December 30 with the ultimate blow, and most unprecedented decision of all in India’s dynasty politics -- Mulayam expelled Akhilesh from the party for six years. In idiomatic terms, Mulayam had cut his nose to spite his face. Then, 18 hours later, he took Akhilesh back after another volte face in this embarrassingly jarring soap opera. Who knows what will happen next.
This is a family feud the likes of which this nation has never witnessed before--either in politics or in history: an odd reverse-usurping of power in which a father seems to be conspiring with his brothers and friends to relegate a son he had himself anointed with much pomp five years ago.
Akhilesh may be right in blaming his uncle Shivpal for engineering a coup and the “outsider” Amar Singh for returning to the fold to unseat him, but a portion of the blame must also lie at the door of the chief minister. Not only did he fail to spot the game of thrones being played around him, he committed the cardinal error of taking his power for granted. Over five years, insiders say, he did precious little to stamp his authority on either the government or the party, as all strong leaders must.
Allowing a new battle of succession to erupt within the SP--after the question had seemingly been settled in 2012 --is partly Akhilesh’s own doing. For too long into his tenure, he kept his eye off the ball and did not put in the time and effort that a position such as his demands.
Even in Akhilesh’s early days in office, bureaucrats in the UP secretariat started speaking of how the young chief minister would tune out when policy matters were being discussed. That he would peer into his phone during important meetings, that he would rarely go to the CM’s designated office in the secretariat’s ‘Pancham Tal’, and that it was hard to schedule a meeting with him after 7pm. Akhilesh left much of the governance to Mulayam and his loyal IAS officer Anita Singh, who later became Akhilesh’s principal secretary, the party’s Muslim face Azam Khan, and his uncles Shivpal and Ram Gopal. Within a few months of his taking over, an inside joke started spreading among bureaucrats that there were five-and-a-half chief ministers in the state. When asked who the half was, they would snigger and reply, “Akhilesh, who else?”
To Akhilesh’s credit, 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the party won just five out of 80 seats, jolted him awake. He realised that the state was slowly slipping away from his grasp and took it upon himself to rewrite the script. By then, the power structure within the government, the family and the party was already too rigid for Akhilesh to tackle head-on. Instead of buckling, he decided to change tracks and embark on a development path for his reinvention.
- OCT 20: Writer and poet Salil Chaturvedi, who is wheelchair-bound due to a spinal injury, was assaulted for not standing up while the national anthem was being played before the screening of a film at a multiplex in Panaji. Salil also represented India in wheelchair tennis at the Australian Open
- JUNE 2: Akhilesh sacks cabinet minister Balram Yadav for his role in the merger of Quami Ekta Dal
- JUNE 25: Samajwadi Party cancels merger of Quami Ekta Dal. Shivpal sulks AUG 14 Shivpal Yadav threatens to resign
- AUG 15: In an apparent warning to Akhilesh, Mulayam says if his brother Shivpal resigned, SP would split
- AUG 17: Shivpal skips a cabinet meeting AUG 19 SP puts up a show of unity as Shivpal calls upon Akhilesh. Shivpal denies differences
- SEPT 12: After the Allahabad HC upholds its order for a CBI probe into illegal mining in UP, Akhilesh sacks two tainted ministers
- SEPT 13: Akhilesh sacks UP chief secretary Deepak Singhal, who was considered close to Shivpal
- SEPT 13: Mulayam removes Akhilesh from the post of state president and names Shivpal to the post
- SEPT 14: A sulking Shivpal is summoned to Delhi by Mulayam who tries to chalk out a solution to the present crisis
- SEPT 15: Tension escalates as Shivpal resigns from post of state president and cabinet
- SEPT 16: Mulayam rejects Shivpal’s resignation and says as long as he is alive party will not split
- SEPT 20: Shivpal expels seven Akhilesh supporters including three MLCs
- OCT 22: SP expels Akhilesh supporter Udaiveer Singh
- OCT 23: Akhilesh sacks Shivpal and three others from the cabinet
- OCT 24: Mulayam expels Ramgopal Yadav
- DEC 25: Akhilesh submits his own list of candidates to Mulayam
- DEC 28: Mulayam announces 325 candidates; many on CM’s list missing
- DEC 29: Akhilesh releases his own list of 235 candidates
- DEC 30: Mulayam expels Akhilesh and Ramgopal Yadav for six years from the party in a late evening decision over alleged indiscipline and in a bid to ‘save the Samajwadi Party’
- DEC 31: Akhilesh and Ram Gopal Yadav’s expulsions from the Samajwadi Party revoked, announces Shivpal. "We will defeat communal forces in Uttar Pradesh together."
The six big-ticket projects he zeroed in on were the Lucknow-Agra Expressway, which then linked to the Yamuna expressway to create a high-speed corridor from Lucknow to Delhi; four-lane highways linking 44 district headquarters; the Lucknow metro; an IT City in Chak Ganjaria; a cancer hospital in Lucknow; and, an international cricket stadium in the state capital. With these projects rolling out just before the assembly elections, Akhilesh felt he had enough to show for his first term as chief minister, and perhaps with good reason.
Ironically, even as these schemes were being inaugurated and Akhilesh had managed to turn the tide to emerge as the only bankable face in UP politics, he found himself against the ropes. The internal problems he has faced in recent months are old and predictable. An ambitious uncle and a willing collaborator have managed to stir the green-eyed monster called Jealousy. That the monster has been awoken in his own father may be unforeseen, but Akhilesh’s failure to take care of his family politics, let alone party politics or state politics, is equally responsible for the crisis.
Both the SP and Akhilesh’s chances get diminished once they’re separated from each other. The party doesn’t have any other leader with a good enough image to consolidate the different vote banks and demographics needed to win an election. And Akhilesh hasn’t built a mass base to feel confident of victory on his own. Even if they stay together, too much damage may have been done already. It’s a different kind of full circle from the one Akhilesh had planned for himself and the SP -- the snake is eating its own tail.